A fire broke out inside the Damien Center in Albany on Thursday morning. The facility helps hundreds of people affected by HIV and AIDS. And as YNN's Megan Cruz reports, the building sustained serious damage.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- "Just paid off the mortgage in December," said Perry Junjulas, the executive director of the Albany Damien Center.
His building caught fire early on Thursday morning.
"Been here for 15 years," added Junjulas.
The non-profit organization serves those living with HIV or AIDS.
"Employment services, we provide housing, meals," said Junjulas.
He said there are currently about 400 people they are supporting free of charge.
"And then they have family members who depend on us also," he said. "So that's an additional 1,000 people who are going to be affected by us not being able to provide services."
One such person is Janice Nelson. She's been HIV-positive for 22 years.
"There's a lot of stigma out there, a lot of fear," she said.
Nelson started coming to the Damien Center 10 years ago. She said it's become a safe place and a second home for her.
"Two hot meals a day, five days a week. So it was nice to come in, and to be with people you're accepted by that's dealing with the same thing you're dealing with," said Nelson.
Albany Fire Chief Robert Forezzi said the fire started in the basement. There is no official cause yet, but Junjulas thinks it might have been electrical.
"Where the fire was coming out of at 6:30 a.m. was by our panel boxes," he said.
Junjulas had an important message to deliver though.
"We are still here for you, you are not alone. You know me, I will work to get this place back up and running," he said.
Chief Forezzi tells us the short-lived fire was so damaging because the Damien Center is an old building. It was built in the 1900s, and was not built with fire stops, allowing the fire to travel from one floor to the next.
However, older buildings have strong exteriors that prevented the building from becoming a total loss. The Damien Center already has plans to rebuild at the same locatio.
If you're interested in making a donation to assist in the rebuilding of the Damien Center, head to albanydamiencenter.org.