March 8, 2023

Construction kicked off for new Damien Center building, which will broaden services

Groundbreaking for the new Damien Center on the Near Eastside.  - Jill Sheridan/WFYI

Groundbreaking for the new Damien Center on the Near Eastside.

Jill Sheridan/WFYI

Indiana’s largest HIV/AIDS service organization broke ground on its expanded home Wednesday, as the organization’s need for extra space grows.

Damien Center’s new three-story, 56,000-square-foot building is on East Washington Street, kitty-corner to its current location. The center has expanded services in recent years and needs more room to add food, housing, health, testing and harm reduction programs.

Damien President and CEO Alan Witchey said the group served 6,500 people last year.

“The need keeps going up, so we cannot adequately serve people in our current building. It's just not possible,” Witchey said.

The city of Indianapolis has committed new market tax credit financing to help the $34 million build. Damien Center private funding, grants and other donations add to the campaign.

The new center will also be boosted with a gift from Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis, who will auction off three gold medals to help fund a welcome center in honor of Ryan White, an Indiana boy who befriended Louganis before he died of AIDS.

Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the Damien Center has been a key partner in the county’s syringe exchange program.

“What does that mean?  It has cut down on our Hepatitis C infection. It has reduced our HIV transmission,” Caine said.

Caine said the center helped distribute thousands of doses of naloxone that saved 1,700 lives last year.

Another newly acquired building nearby will add workforce development programming.  The center is assessing the future use of its existing building, which the organization has used since the 1980s.

Marion County was targeted as an HIV hotspot by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018.  Since then, Damien has increased its staff from 40 employees to about 150.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

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