When Housing Works’ Rosalie Canosa sliced through a giant red ribbon in a crowded basement cafeteria on Friday, 150 onlookers erupted in cheers to welcome the Women’s Health Center to downtown Brooklyn. But future clients stopping by to take a peek at their new digs were the most excited of all. “It’s an oasis for us,” said 61-year-old Chardelle Free, who will be showing up several times a week along with two dozen other clients when the Center opens its doors on September 1. “This is truly a gift.”

The 24-room facility, which will cater solely to the needs of women with HIV, is slated to serve 60 clients by the fall of 2008. With its full menu of medical, dental and mental health care, as well as housing and legal services, acupuncture, massage and support groups, it couldn’t come to a more appropriate neighborhood. “Right now, Brooklyn is the epicenter of the disease,” said Canosa, the Center’s executive director.

The focus on women is timely too. More women with HIV/AIDS live in Brooklyn than any other borough of the city, and Black and Latina women account for 95% of new HIV/AIDS cases among women citywide. During Housing Works’ 17 years of operation, women’s tendency to take better care of their families than themselves has emerged as a challenge for the organization’s programs. “Women are not always connecting to their health care providers in the best way,” according to Canosa. “That is why this center is sorely needed.”

Housing Works case manager Rita “Sunshine” Brooks described the center as a place where women can be themselves. “We can walk in a place and know that our needs are met as women—without judgment,” she said.

Not to mention finding a little peace and quiet. The building’s atmosphere is anything but clinical: Residents can enjoy the calming hum of a waterfall, a fitness room stocked with yoga mats and hand  weights, a child’s playroom and colorful artwork by Californian painter Annie Wharton—all free of cost to women registered in the program. (Under the terms of a $3 million loan that Housing Works took out, clients must be on insurance, ADP, Medicare or Medicaid and participate for a minimum number of hours every week—though occasional walk-ins are welcome.)

HIV wellness centers dedicated solely to positive women’s needs have flourished elsewhere around the country, but the Brooklyn facility is a first for New York City. Positive women attending the opening ceremony Friday—along with doctors, politicians, Housing Works staff and residents—were hopeful. Ellie Figueroa, transgendered and HIV positive for 12 years, has relied for quite a while on the services of Housing Works. “When I needed a place to stay,help with my hep C medicine or support, Housing Works was there for me,” she said Friday. This new focus on the specific concerns of women completes the picture for Figueroa, who added, “I can’t wait!”