Canada’s Bruce House Readily Adapts to Its Clients’ Changing Needs

Bruce House in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has been serving individuals living with HIV and AIDS for 33 years, and in this interview, Doug Cooper, former manager of client programs and services, discusses the history of the organization.

Bruce House in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has been serving individuals living with HIV and AIDS for 33 years. Here we speak with Doug Cooper, former manager of client programs and services, who worked at Bruce House for 28 years, progressing from part-time to full-time employee to team leader and management. He was also a caregiver at Bruce House’s transition house in the early 1990s.

To see previous clips from our interview with Bruce House, which is part of our series on individuals and international organizations working to bring local and global awareness to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, marking its 40th anniversary this year, please click here and here.


How did Bruce House become a reality?

Back in like around 1987, there were just a group of people here in Ottawa who realized there were no services for people living with HIV, and they began looking for a way that they could create some kind of an organization, some way to help. As it turned out, there was this woman, Janet Bruce, who was donating a house and there were no takers for this house, apparently. She had contacted a housing provider here in Ottawa, Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, to see if they could manage this house and if they had someone for the house.

This group of concerned citizens heard about this, and they jumped on board and developed a partnership with Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation. At that point in time, when they became Bruce House, they weren't actually called Bruce House then. They were called the AIDS Housing Group of Ottawa.

They had this house, and it was basically a place for people to come and die because there were no services for people back at that time. So for a number of years, that’s basically what it was: it was a place for people to come for end of life. And the staff that works at the house provided all of the personal care they needed.

At that time, we had nurses that would come in and provide any of the injectables and things like that the staff couldn’t administer. And we had doctors on call. It was kind of a crazy time back in the early 90s.

The house changed a little bit when the new antiretrovirals came around in the mid 90s. We were finding that people were living longer, they were healthier, so we had to change the way that the house operated. So it became more of a transitional home. People still came there for end-of-life care, but they also came there just for a period of time, maybe they were just getting out of hospital and they needed a place to go to get back on their feet, to get some housing applications in. So we had to change with the times.

And then with the change in the antiretrovirals, people were not needing the end-of-life care so much. They were needing more of the care to continue living. So we developed the Supportive Independent Living Program, which is basically a bunch of apartments that are scattered throughout Ottawa. Bruce House rents them from not-for-profit housing providers and then they’re subletted to the tenants of Bruce House.

The clients are provided with support in their activities of daily living. Referrals are made to other community resources. Wellness checks happen. The clients have access to the Buddy Program, and our Community Kitchen program. Both of these programs were designed to create social connections and prevent social isolation, which is a really big thing with the people that Bruce house works with.

So that’s pretty much where Bruce House came from.

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