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Detroit turns up missing money for AIDS patients

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Aug. 31--For the second time in less than four years, a local AIDS organization for low-income people almost had to shut down because the City of Detroit bungled the agency's federal grant money. This time, the city could not find the more than $100,000 that the Wellness House was supposed to have received last year.

The grant helps the nonprofit run a food program that feeds 3,000 people with AIDS and HIV in southeast Michigan and pays for salaries, utilities, insurance and rent on the first floor of a former Catholic school on West Warren Avenue. The agency also runs an assisted living program that houses 25 people with AIDS.

Wellness House has been wrangling with city officials for four months over the missing money, but on Monday -- a day after several inquiries by the Free Press -- city officials said they found the funds.

Dwayne Haywood, director of the city's Department of Human Services, said a coding error misplaced the funds in the account of another agency. He said the error has been corrected.

The Wellness House grant, administered by the city, comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last year, the federal department found the city lax in tracking grants and ordered city officials to improve its methods. The department also cited the city for unusually long delays in approving contracts with agencies that receive the federal dollars.

Wellness House is still recovering from an episode in 2000 when the city delayed a contract for a federal grant for almost 15 months and then later lost $26,000 of it that never has been recovered. During that time, the agency spent its savings, extended its credit and accumulated thousands in debt.

Still, the news of the found money buoyed Wellness House clients like Joyce Sanders, a 53-year-old east-side Detroiter who has depended on the agency ever since she was diagnosed with HIV 12 years ago.

Sanders receives $564 a month in Social Security income, which she said is just enough to pay for rent, utilities and food for her beloved companion, Duke, an 11-year-old white and gray mixed breed dog.

So Sanders relies on the monthly boxes of food she receives from the Wellness House that are filled with peanut butter and jelly, pasta, canned vegetables and fruit, stews and vitamins.

"It's enough to help me so my money isn't so tight," Sanders said. "I don't know what I would have done without Wellness House."


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