Michael Speed

The Sulzbacher Center saved Michael Speed's life more than once. In 1995 the Sulzbacher Center opened its doors and Michael was one of our first clients. When asked about the first time he received help from the Center, Michael had this to say, “I remember some of the guys were talking about this new shelter that had just opened. They had this program and that program. I decided that I should go check it out. I went there, checked in and noticed the sleeping area for the guys was just yellow stripes painted on a concrete floor. After sleeping on the floor you learn some things about yourself. The first question you ask is ‘What am I doing here?’ I came from a middle class family where things were not handed to you but you had a sense of earning things. I got caught up in drugs and lost my identity.”

The second time Michael received help from the Center was in 1999. Michael became very ill and went to the doctor. To his surprise he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and the doctor told him he only had about six weeks to live. With that news Michael moved into a nursing home, never expecting to move out. “I rolled in there in a hospital bed and a year later I walked out of there a relatively healthy man. The area I was placed in was specifically for people with AIDS. Almost every night a funeral home came to get someone who had passed away. I sat in the doorway each night and I watched them take away someone I had befriended. All I could do was cry and wonder if I would be next, but my turn never came. I got out of the nursing home on July 3, 2000. I will never forget that day. After I got out of the nursing home I had no income and was in jeopardy of losing my home. I turned to the Sulzbacher Center’s Housing Program for help.  Sharon Peterson, the Housing Program’s Ryan White Housing Specialist helped me apply for Social Security, pay my first months rent and turn on my electricity. It was truly a blessing and helped my get back on my feet.”

Over 17 years later, Michael is back at the Center but in a different capacity. Every Thursday night he works for the Duval County Health Department as a HIV/AIDS Counselor. “I have people come back and tell me ‘Man just those few words you said to me made a big difference.’ When I encounter someone newly diagnosed I try to put myself in their shoes. What are they going through? What questions do they have? What do they need? My thing is love…love and compassion. Love carries a lot of weight in the medical field.”

“I tell people this and they don’t believe me, but being HIV positive saved my life. I go to the doctor every three months, I take all my medication, I don’t do drugs, I sleep very well at night, and I have a nice home. Even if you have this disease it does not mean you can’t live a perfectly normal life.”