HIV-pos­i­tive youth lobby law­mak­ers on tack­ling HIV, home­less­ness

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Ge­or­gia Equal­ity’s Youth HIV Policy Ad­vi­sors (YHPA) hosted a World AIDS Day policy and ac­tion brunch on Dec. 1 at the Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights, mak­ing a case for the link be­tween hous­ing and At­lanta’s HIV cri­sis and mak­ing a se­ries of asks of the many city, county and state of­fi­cials in at­ten­dance.

This marks the fourth year of the YHPA, a pro­gram that pairs law­mak­ers and At­lanta youth liv­ing with HIV to work to­gether to fight the city’s HIV epi­demic.

The event at­tracted an ar­ray of lo­cal law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing: state Sen. Nan Or­rock (D-At­lanta); state Reps. Karen Ben­nett (D-Stone Moun­tain), Park Can­non (D-At­lanta), Michele Hen­son (D-Stone Moun­tain), Sheila Jones (D-At­lanta) and Mary Mar­garet Oliver (D-Decatur); At­lanta Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­bers Les­lie Grant and Matt West­more­land; At­lanta City Coun­cilmem­bers Feli­cia Moore and Alex Wan; East Point City Coun­cilmem­bers Thomas Cal­loway and Karen Rene; Dekalb County Com­mis­sion­ers Larry John­son and Jeff Rader; and Johns Creek City Coun­cil­man Chris Cough­lin.

Former At­lanta City Coun­cil­man and Fulton County Com­mis­sioner and cur­rent Fulton County Chair can­di­date Robb Pitts was also in at­ten­dance.

Hous­ing as HIV preven­tion

Law­mak­ers are be­com­ing more and more fa­mil­iar with the trou­bling HIV rates in At­lanta. The city ranks fifth out of all met­ro­pol­i­tan areas in the U.S. in the num­ber of new di­ag­noses, per the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

What they may not have known was the effect that hous­ing has on those num­bers, and vice versa. Ac­cord­ing to the At­lanta Hous­ing Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Per­sons with AIDS (HOPWA), it’s es­ti­mated that over 17,000 peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in metro At­lanta will be un­sta­bly housed this year, and that num­ber is ex­pected to grow. The Na­tional AIDS Hous­ing Coali­tion says that home­less­ness is pre­dic­tive of HIV risk be­hav­iors and that proven HIV preven­tion strate­gies have been shown to be less ef­fec­tive with peo­ple who are un­sta­bly housed. And LGBT youth of color are dis­pro­por­tion­ately likely to ex­pe­ri­ence home­less­ness and con­tract HIV dur­ing their life­times.

“What these young peo­ple are ask­ing for isn’t rad­i­cal,” said Emily Brown, HIV and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams di­rec­tor for Ge­or­gia Equal­ity. “They’re ask­ing our city of­fi­cials to see home­less­ness as the pub­lic health cri­sis that it is. Hous­ing is HIV preven­tion and health­care for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV. We won’t end our HIV epi­demic with­out ad­dress­ing home­less­ness.”

Among the re­quests the co­hort made of the law­mak­ers in or­der to tackle the prob­lem:

In­crease the ca­pac­ity for hous­ing peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in metro At­lanta

In­crease shel­ter and emer­gency re­sources for home­less youth in metro At­lanta and make sure that they are safe and wel­com­ing for LGBT youth

De­crease the pa­per­work bur­den placed on hous­ing ap­pli­cants

Im­prove the HOPWA grant con­tract­ing and re­im­burse­ment pro­cesses for hous­ing providers

Im­prove the mon­i­tor­ing and over­sight of hous­ing providers and pro­vide tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to en­sure they meet the stan­dards of Hous­ing First

Learn about HIV and its so­cial de­ter­mi­nants from ex­perts

Get to know how HIV and home­less­ness im­pact their dis­trict

“We have a lot of work to do in ed­u­cat­ing the en­tire City Coun­cil about the im­por­tance of hous­ing in our fight against HIV, but the Coun­cil pres­i­dent’s en­gage­ment as a leader is cru­cial,” Brown said.

Moore and Wan, who were sit­ting at the same ta­ble, would face each other in a runoff for At­lanta City Coun­cil pres­i­dent just days later. But Brown noted that nei­ther At­lanta may­oral can­di­date (Keisha Lance Bot­toms or Mary Nor­wood) in the Dec. 5 runoff took part in the event.

“We’re fac­ing a gen­eral hous­ing cri­sis in At­lanta, and it’s up to our new mayor work­ing in tan­dem with Coun­cil to make sure hous­ing for LGBTQ youth is pri­or­i­tized and un­der­stood in the con­text of HIV,” she said.

‘See the hu­man­ity’

For Myles Ma­son, be­com­ing a part of the YHPA co­hort was a no-brainer.

“Be­ing that I’m [HIV-pos­i­tive], I felt that it was my duty to spread aware­ness any way that I can,” he told Ge­or­gia Voice. “I felt that this was a perfect fit to in­form oth­ers about what peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion go through, and what we’re ask­ing from you is to see the hu­man­ity.”

Ma­son was a co-em­cee of the World AIDS Day event, and he caught the at­ten­tion of all in the room toward the end when he brought his grand­mother — who raised him — up to the front of the room.

“She just found out re­cently in the past year that I was HIV-pos­i­tive and it’s been weigh­ing heav­ily on her and she ba­si­cally just asked if there was any as­sis­tance for par­ents and peo­ple like her who have a child in this sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

It was an emo­tional moment for Ma­son and his fel­low co­hort mem­bers.

“For them to see and hear an older person from a gen­er­a­tion that ba­si­cally looked at us and frowned at us and looks at our com­mu­nity as a bunch of wild chil­dren, to show some re­spect for me and my sit­u­a­tion and my co­hort, it was def­i­nitely an in­spi­ra­tional moment for all of us,” he said.

Ma­son has been paired up with state Sen. Glo­ria But­ler (D-Stone Moun­tain) and will be meet­ing with her soon to talk about HIV and home­less­ness.

He said he’s learned a lot so far by tak­ing part in the pro­gram, ad­mit­ting that he was naive on some is­sues, specif­i­cally home­less­ness.

“I just as­sumed a home­less person was some­one who lived in a card­board box, but when you think about it, home­less­ness is re­ally some­one that doesn’t have any­thing of their own,” he said. “If you can’t pro­vide for your­self or at least get some­thing in your name or have mail come to your house, that eval­u­ates as some­one that’s home­less. My goal from here on is to get my­self in­volved with the com­mu­nity to tackle the is­sue that oc­curs in this com­mu­nity and be­come a bet­ter ad­vo­cate and a bet­ter person more im­por­tantly.”

By PATRICK SAUN­DERS

De­cem­ber 8, 2017

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