Advocacy Promotes Housing for People With HIV/AIDS

Learn how the AIDS Action Committee in Massachusetts addresses the connections between poverty, housing, and HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Day 2013, with its theme of "Shared Responsibility," provided an opportunity to take a look at issues impacting the AIDS community. We talked to Brenda Rose, Director of Housing Service for the AIDS Action Committee (AAC) in Boston, Massachusetts. AAC marked the 25th observance of World AIDS Day with a ceremony at the Prudential Center when the top half of the building was lit in red lights in honor of those who are living with HIV/AIDS and in remembrance of those who lost their lives to AIDS.

“When we are talking about HIV prevention, we have to look at healthcare as a whole. Getting the person housed is healthcare,” Rose said. “If they are housed, we can improve their outcomes, look at prevention, and it is very cost effective.

AAC’s efforts to promote housing for HIV-positive and at-risk people center on three programs: Housing Search and Advocacy, Supportive Housing, and Financial Assistance.

Financial Assistance focuses on homelessness prevention and keeping tenants in their apartments with the utilities still on. “Usually there is something that interrupts the ability to earn a stable living, like illness, and we pay a portion of the rent for that period. Sometimes that includes paying a portion of utilities during the crisis. If they need to find a more affordable rent, they may qualify for support for the first and last month’s deposit, plus get access to affordable listings through AAC,” Rose said.

“With Housing Search and Advocacy, we will actively look for housing units for our clients. This is really a joint effort of several service agencies in the Boston area. We link doctors and healthcare providers, among others.” This practice demonstrates that housing is synonymous with healthcare for this vulnerable population.

“If someone is having a hard time with eviction, they will get an advocate to help them through the process. If they get denied, the advocate will navigate the appeals process and challenge it on their behalf. The key here is to preserve tenancy and preserve access. Boston is a large community, a collection of small towns, really, and it is a mixed bag. Some landlords are challenging, but most are great to work with.”

“Supportive housing is for residential program people, those who are hard to house. We know we have to put housing first,” Rose reiterated. “There are units set aside for these people. We define support as medical case management and continuum of care support, employment support, and help with bill paying and budgeting. Sometimes they have never had a lease. What is important is to find a work-around, to work on the related issues.”

For the AAC’s housing efforts, support is defined by need. They recognize that help for clients must include homelessness prevention. Going from homeless to housed can be a challenge, but it helps to define a community where clients do not feel isolated.

AAC’s work with youth experiencing homelessness who age out of the foster care system, live in an unstable housing environment, or have issues with their family regarding their sexuality and have been kicked out of the house is just one example of the agency’s commitment to holistic support. AAC will often come in contact with these teens through their drop-in center for youth, which they have been running for thirteen years. They have twelve to twenty-four units available specifically for youths who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk for homelessness.

AAC’s approach is one of solving the problem with effective solutions and developing programs out of that framework. But Brenda Rose has a broader view. “We need to take a step back and look at our housing policies, policies that keep the people in most need out of housing. There is a basic need out there. Have we become way too comfortable being present with homeless people?”

It is an important question to ask, especially during the winter season.

This article was originally published to highlight the theme of Minority Behavioral Health Issues.

Learn how people who misuse drugs and/or alcohol are at greater risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and viral hepatitis.

Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

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Brian Prioleau
Last Updated: 04/19/2016