Pride 2017: Basinger provides a lifeline for HIVers andothers
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Brian Basinger has known what its like to live in fear. The longtime HIV survivor lost his apartment over a decade ago. He was one of the first casualties of San Francisco's eviction crisis.
Basinger recalled his "gay dad," Jack Hamm, one of the many people from 67 Pearl Street who have since died. Basinger had lived in the building for many years.
"Jack and I had a special bond," Basinger said. "He was an electrician by trade and had fixed up the worn down Edwardian he bought for $70,000 back in the 1970s. He recognized the butch queen in me and saw I knew my way around a power tool. Over the years, he developed increased trust in me, finally giving me the key to his tool shed. Some of the people reading this will know what an honor that was."
As the gentrification of the city escalated, 67 Pearl turned out to be in a prime location.
"After the LGBT Community Center got built, and the Central Freeway torn down, our little oasis got discovered," Basinger recalled. "Suddenly, we had all of these upper-income people coming in and evicting our little community. Those of us that survived that worst of the plague were suddenly contending a new threat: Ellis Act speculator evictions."
The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to get out of the rental business by evicting tenants.
"I watched as they began 'mowing down' the long-term residents of our little block," Basinger added. "They started toward the Duboce side of the block, and one-by-one started taking us out. In two short years, I was the 13th disabled gay man with AIDS evicted on just this one little block. The fabric of our community was being decimated. This time not by a virus, but by avarice."
It was while watching the destruction of his neighborhood that Basinger came up with the idea for Q Foundation.
"On December 15, 2003 I had a dream where a booming voice commanded, 'You must organize housing for people with AIDS!'" Basinger said. "I woke up with the response in my head. I was saying OK, but it can't be five guys in a back room making policy. It has to stay connected to the people."
That same morning Basinger received a life-changing phone call.
"I got a call from the property manager of my boyfriend James Nykolay's building," Basinger said. "He said, 'We have two units opening up in his building and we want to rent them to other disabled people with AIDS who have a Section 8 voucher. I figured if anybody in this town knows how to do that, it's you.'"
Basinger, 50, added that he was amazed at how quickly things fell into place. His friend Tommi Avicolli Mecca offered the fledgling AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, as the program was originally called, a desk inside the Housing Rights Committee's office, where he worked. The AIDS Emergency Fund was the organization's original fiscal sponsor – it took six weeks for the IRS to grant Basinger nonprofit status for the organization.
"We incorporated as Q Foundation, with a mission to address safety net services for the LGBTQ and HIV-positive communities," Basinger said. "Our strategy was to launch as our first program, AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, since it was just me and James, a folding table Tommi and I found on the back porch, and two used phones we bought on Craigslist. I knew there was a lot of need so chose to open the door just a crack at the beginning to help manage the demand for services."
On the very first day in operation there was a line down the block, he said. More than a decade later and Q Foundation now works out of a suite of offices at 350 Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin. Basinger continues to expand the organization's mission and services.
Avicolli Mecca, a queer activist who has long worked on housing issues, praised Basinger.
"After a young man came into my office and cried at my desk because he had been harassed and beaten for being gay at one of the city's shelters the night before, I called Brian and said, 'we have to do something.' The shelters aren't safe for our community," Avicolli Mecca said in an email. "Jazzie's Place was born. We also worked with the Community Land Trust to reopen Marty's Place for homeless and low-income people with AIDS."
Jazzie's Place, which opened two years ago, is a 24-bed shelter for LGBT adults. Gay former Supervisor David Campos worked on the project, along with city departments, Basinger's organization, and others.
Basinger formally changed the housing alliance's name to the Q Foundation last year. The agency provides more than just housing.
"Ten years ago, we opened AHA Cafe, our job training and supported employment program located on campus at UC Hastings College of Law," Basinger said. "About seven years ago, we merged with Simply Sandwiches to distribute about 10,000 mostly organic vegetarian brown bag lunches to people in need. One of the best tools to lower HIV transmission rates is to stabilize the housing of people at high risk for acquiring the virus. We developed a comprehensive suite of homelessness prevention tools."
Eventually, Q Foundation services were expanded beyond the HIV community to encompass all disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"We launched the first ongoing rent subsidy program targeting LGBTQ seniors and disabled folks, known as the SDS program," Basinger said. "We made those subsidies available online to over 40 sister agencies serving diverse groups throughout the city."
According to Basinger, Q Foundation has provided over 61,000 nights of stable housing at a cost of $23 per night. "We must stabilize people in the housing they already have, by any means necessary, while we wait the decades for the city and region to invest in new affordable housing production," Basinger said.
Avicolli Mecca said that Basinger "gets it."
"He gets that if we are truly to be a community, we have to take care of the homeless and poor and working-class among us, the folks who often get overlooked or ignored or even demonized by mainstream LGBT folks and organizations," he said. "Brian has helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with AIDS. He is tireless."
Basinger said he thinks the Q Foundation has been a positive change in the city.
"It has been amazing to watch the awareness in the community grow about housing as a human right," he said. "The tenants' rights movement is how I wish the LGBTQ movement felt. I'm surrounded by the smartest, most compassionate, committed, kick-ass, and supportive people that I can imagine. It feels good to be part of the leadership of a movement that is bringing so much positive change to people's lives."