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Heart-to-Heart: Victor Lockhart

When you meet Victor Lockhart for the first time, you can’t help but smile. Though gruff on the phone, in person the “Mayor” (as he is called by his case manager due to his warm demeanor and ability to work a room) is warm, funny, and prone to long stories about growing up in Seattle. He has an unforgettable voice – raspy and booming. He was more than eager to chat with me one day about the circumstances that led to him seeking out Lifelong for help.

Victor was born in 1955 in Seattle. His parents died when he was very young - his mother to cirrhosis resulting from her alcoholism and his father to tuberculosis.

After his father passed, and with his mother still living, Victor was placed in foster care because of his mother’s inability to take care of him. Victor moved around, bouncing around to 13 different foster homes. He ran into trouble with the law and ended up in juvenile detention resulting from his drinking problems. In 1969, a social worker told him that his mother had passed. Around the same time, his social worker met with him to go over the terms of placing him with the next family (which would have been his 14th).

“I was tired,” Victor said. “I couldn’t do that anymore.”

And so he became emancipated and on his very own at the age of 17. The Department of Social and Health Services gave him an apartment on Beacon Hill.

Victor ended up getting a good job as a journeyman painter in the shipyards where he worked for 16 years. For extra money, he would donate plasma. One day in 1992 when he went in to donate, he was told he couldn’t because he had HIV. He was shocked. This diagnoses hit close to home, as his sister was living with HIV (she unfortunately ended up passing).

Victor immediately sought out medical care when he knew he was positive. He wanted to live a long life and he knew there were options.   

“When I first contracted this, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to die.’ ” Victor said. “My doctor told me, ‘ Victor, I want you here for the cure.’ “  

It has taken years for him to find the right pill regime. He is working with a doctor that specializes in HIV and together, they found something that works. His doctor sent him to Lifelong in 1992 (then, the Northwest AIDS Foundation) to get help figuring out how to pay for his medical care as well as see what other resources were available to him now that he wasn’t working.

“Lifelong has aged as well as I have!” Victor said, laughing, in regards to Lifelong’s 30 year history.

Today, his viral load is undetectable.

There have been plenty of bumps along the way. He had a rough bout with prostrate cancer in 2014 and his trouble with the law persisted as a result of alcoholism. He was homeless for a period and couch surfed and lived in shelters. Eventually Lifelong placed him at Kenyon House, an apartment building for HIV positive, homeless individuals.

“That unit was all mine,” Victor boasts.

According to Victor, Lifelong’s case management department was Victor’s “team” throughout all of this. They supported him, set-up Community Voice Mail, delivered meals and groceries to his home. His case manager, Tony Koester is one of Victor’s biggest fans.

According to Tony:

“Victor is one of my favorite clients.  This is a man who’s had a rough go since he was a child with every reason to be bitter and jaded, but when Victor and I began working together following his last incarceration, he was beginning treatment for cancer and homeless.  Despite his dire circumstances, he remained optimistic, always had a smile on his face, and was motivated to make changes for the better. I still remember the look on his face when I gave him the news that he was accepted into the permanent housing program. I saw pure joy, relief, and gratitude.  I’ve had the pleasure to watch him continue to thrive since moving into his apartment.”

Today, Victor is enjoying life and his new digs. He plans on being around for a while because of his good family genes (his grandfather lived to be 103 years old).

“Jesse Jackson said it the best. ‘Keep hope alive,’” says Victor. “And that’s what I’m doing.”