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Copper Thieves Strike HIV/AIDS Service Center; Patients High And Dry

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Services have been all but shut down at an HIV/AIDS service center on the city's West Side for the past two weeks, after vandals stole copper from the building and left it without electricity or air conditioning.

The Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care location in the West Garfield Park neighborhood was hit multiple times in the past month by vandals who stripped the copper from electrical wiring and stole the air conditioning coils in the building, causing almost $50,000 in damage, according to a news release.

Vital Bridges provides food and nutrition services, housing assistance, case management, and prevention services for people with HIV/AIDS. But left with no air conditioning at the peak of a sweltering summer, the West Side location – while not closed altogether – has been forced to keep severely limited hours with no electricity and fewer food options.

"We are certainly not the only business/organization that has suffered this kind of destruction and loss," says Vital Bridges' Chief Healthcare Strategist, Debbie Hinde. "It has become an epidemic in this community. And, since there is a market for the copper with no questions asked about its origin, it doesn't seem like there will be an end in sight. It is very disheartening and has a tremendous negative impact on our clients' lives and our ability to serve them."

Nearly 300 clients have come to the West Side Vital Bridges facility and have not been able to get nutritious food – and since most of them live on $800 a month or less, many can't afford to get it anywhere else, the release said. The patients also could not reach their case managers or housing specialists to address issues such as trouble with rent or problems with their health, the release said.

The facility has since replaced its electrical wiring – for the second time – but is still without air conditioning, a spokesman said.

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