Housing is Healthcare for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS

In 2012, there were 132 homeless individuals with a positive diagnosis for HIV/AIDS in our area. Living with HIV/AIDS is already incredibly difficult for a person who has housing, a full support structure, and a good, stable source of funding. Without this stability—without supportive services, without appropriate healthcare, without safe, decent, and affordable housing—living with HIV/AIDS can be impossible.

The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and the general misunderstanding of the disease and its transmission results in community prejudice and, often, the loss of important support systems. This means that a person living with HIV/AIDS can lose their job and loved ones due to ignorance—they can lose their support, stability, and sense of safety.

Stigma and social pressure can keep a person living with HIV/AIDS from seeking treatment and services because they don’t want others to know their HIV status or because they fear that people won’t be willing to help them if they know their HIV status. This creates a barrier for people who desperately need services to survive. The possibility of increased illness due to a low functioning immune system and lack of appropriate care is high. Medicines used to combat the disease can be very expensive and typically a person needs multiple costly medicines to remain healthy and stable. All of these factors can lead to persons living with HIV/AIDS becoming homeless.

HIV/AIDS can also develop after a person becomes homeless. Substance abuse (sharing of needles) and survival sex (to secure shelter, food, safety, etc.) can both lead to HIV/AIDS infection for persons experiencing homelessness. On the streets, conditions are often dirty and damp, and this can increase the spread of illnesses. Even within a shelter, a person battling HIV/AIDS can be regularly exposed to other illnesses (flu, strep, etc.) which can ravage someone with a lowered immune system.

Supportive housing is healthcare for a person living with HIV/AIDS: having access to safe, decent, and affordable housing and appropriate treatment and care directly reduces the vulnerability of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Clean living conditions, regular medications, and mental health support are all parts of keeping someone with HIV/AIDS housed, stable, and safe.

Here are some statistics about HIV/AIDS in our area from Karen Musgrove, Executive Director of Birmingham AIDS Outreach (BAO):

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health:

  • 607 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Alabama in 2012; 181 of these cases were diagnosed in Jefferson County
  • 198 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Alabama from January 1 to June 30 of this year; 51 of these cases were diagnosed in Jefferson County

These numbers show that around 30% of all new cases of HIV in Alabama occur in Jefferson County. Agencies like BAO and AIDS Alabama are constantly working to respond to the needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS in our community. Check out BAO’s website for information about services they provide.

AIDS Alabama, a One Roof member agency, is the only agency in Birmingham that works specifically to house persons living with HIV/AIDS. They focus on housing, supportive services, policy and advocacy, HIV prevention and education, and free and confidential HIV testing. Their wrap-around supportive services include case management; transportation; utility assistance; emergency financial assistance; vocational assistance; GED preparation/training; secondary HIV education; substance abuse treatment; mental health services; health insurance continuation; and support groups. They are deeply committed to the safety, stability, and health of persons living with HIV/AIDS in our community. Click here for more information about their efforts to help people with HIV/AIDS live healthy, stable lives.

One Roof is committed to raising awareness of issues facing persons living HIV/AIDS, and we are dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness for persons living with HIV/AIDS through education, advocacy, and coordination of services. We at One Roof believe that persons living with HIV/AIDS, like all people, deserve safety and stability. Please contact us for help finding appropriate services for persons living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing homelessness.

 

Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Capacity Building Assistant.

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