GMHC—Protecting People with HIV from Losing Housing

Written by | HIV, Wellness

Kelsey Louie—Photo Courtesy GMHC

AIDS service organizations know housing can be a challenge for their clients. But what is the best way to offer help?

People living with HIV or aids can be at risk of Losing housing for a variety of reasons — from difficulty retaining work while dealing with health issues to financial challenges related to steep medical costs. Yet finding a secure place to live is a pivotal part of ensuring the long-term stability that would allow them to address these very concerns.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) has moved to address this challenge: it entered the housing market, taking over 25 units to house people with HIV/AIDS in NYC. “It’s the first time that we’ve offered housing since our inception 35 years ago,” says Kelsey Louie, GMHC’s Chief Executive Officer. “More and more, housing has been identified as a need for our clients. Unstable housing leads to a host of issues, making it harder for people to get and stay on a medical regimen.”

Many AIDS Service Organizations across America have long provided support to people in need of housing. Los Angeles-based APLA Health, for example, provides a host of services to address the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS who face homelessness. Specialists help clients formulate housing plans, apply for housing assistance, educate them about tenant rights and often act as liaison with property owners. But GMHC’s new program actually provides the housing.

The measure comes at a time when homelessness is still a major domestic problem. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found nearly 550,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2016. There is even a HUD program specifically designed to channel funds to organizations that help low-income people living with HIV/AIDS (and their families) find housing; it’s known as Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

In New York City alone, 60,000 individuals are sleeping in shelters each night. Louie and his colleagues at GMHC could see how the housing crisis was affecting the lives of the people they serve. “Over the last two years, I’ve been listening to our clients and what they need most is housing,” Louie says. “We needed to be doing something differently.”

In both NY and LA, the challenge has been compounded by rapidly escalating rents, which have limited many landlords’ involvement in affordable housing programs and put housing even further out of the grasp of many. “The people we see here are poor,” says Philip Curtis, APLA Health’s Government Affairs Director. “No one living at that kind of income level can find affordable housing in Los Angeles. People are having to move 30, 40 miles out of the city to find subsidized housing.”

This means that nonprofits like APLA Health and GMHC will need to continue to find new and innovative ways to help their clients find — and keep — long-term housing. GMHC says that the 25 units it has opened so far are just a start: its second round of housing is already on the horizon.

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Last modified: June 16, 2017

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