There's new hope for homeless Utahns with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The state's first residence for people with AIDS has opened.

Shalom Apartments, operated under the auspices of St. Joseph Villa, accepted its first tenant this week. There are openings for eight or nine more persons."These are people in remission, who have no place to go," said Sister M. Ambrose Naughton, executive director of the nursing home run by the Houston-based Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

Sister Naughton, who requested that the address of the apartments not be disclosed, said the residents must have been diagnosed with AIDS, or AIDS-related complex.

But they must be people able to hold down jobs and take care of their own needs. Each will be charged rent, based on a sliding scale, or 25 percent of their available income.

Because Shalom is not a hospice, nursing care will not be provided on a regular basis. If the residents require medical or nursing care, the congregation will assist them in getting it at a local hospital.

The official opening and dedication of the apartments April 18 by Bishop William K. Weigand of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City followed more than a year of planning by the congregation, which has been involved in health care since 1866.

"We look on working in health care as being an extension of the healing ministry of Christ," said Sister Ambrose. "Wherever we are, if a health need surfaces, we endeavor to respond.

"At this time our congregation has made a corporate commitment to reach out to persons with AIDS."

Sister Ambrose said this doesn't mean the congregation is condoning the lifestyles of all AIDS patients, including homosexuals and drug abusers. "We are merely reaching out in compassion, in a non-judgmental way, to people who have an illness."

Needless to say, the congregation's dedication to this humanitarian effort didn't have unanimous support. The housing plan spurred heated controversy by area neighbors, cautious of the people with the mysterious and fatal disease. Some worried the apartments will cause their property values to plummet.

"There has been some fear, but it has been alleviated with education," Sister Ambrose said. Last year St. Joseph Villa administrators held a neighborhood hearing to educate residents about the disease.

"Now 90 percent of the people (in the neighborhood) are very supportive of our effort."

Although the Shalom Apartments are directed by St. Joseph Villa, Sister Ambrose said an advisory board oversees the housing project.

Members of the board include representatives of St. Joseph Villa, St. Ann's Parish, Catholic Community Services, the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, Holy Cross Hospital, Community Nursing Association, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake and AIDS Project Utah, a community-based organization that provides support services to all people affected by the disease.

Kayne Pyatt, executive director of AIDS Project Utah, hailed the project. "I think it will be wonderful to have another resource to refer our clients to, especially those without family support."

People with AIDS seeing information about the Shalom Apartments can call John Gatzemeier, apartment manager, at 484-1628.