July 20, 2007
HOME AT LAST?
AAIM's Robinson is spearheading the MS housing plan
"A step in the right direction"— that's the phrase that AIDS advocates in Mississippi keep enthusiastically using to describe a recent victory for poor Mississippians with HIV/AIDS. Last week Craig Thompson, Mississippi's bureau director for STD/HIV, pledged up to $200,000 a year for a four-year pilot program to create long-term low-threshold supportive housing for people with HIV.
"Being in unstable housing only exacerbates HIV. This type of housing is a recognized need in the community," Thompson said. According to the Mississippi Health Department there were 8,540 people known to be living with HIV/AIDS in 2006, an increase of 210 people from 2005. It is not yet known how many of those people would qualify for supportive housing.
Thompson's decision came after a groundbreaking July 12 meeting with AIDS Action in Mississippi (AAIM), the Southern AIDS Commission, My Brother's Keeper, Housing Works and others AIDS groups.
"It's a good thing, finally, for the state to recognize this need," said Valencia Robinson, a field organizer for AIDS Action in Mississippi (AAIM), which has spent the last two years fighting for supportive housing.
"A year ago we couldn't get anyone to even talk about supportive housing," said Jessica Mardis, also an AAIM field organizer. "We're thrilled with Thompson's willingness to fund the pilot program."
Mississippi currently spends no money on long-term housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. The pilot program will be funded by Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) dollars. In the past the state's HOPWA money has gone to transitional housing that lasts a maximum of 21 weeks. The new housing will be available for up to two years and support services such as medical care are expected to be available on-site.
"All we've had since the early '90s is emergency housing," said Dr. Mark Colomb, president and CEO of My Brother's Keeper, Inc. and chair of Mississippi AIDS Advocacy Coalition. "And it was all housing, with no programmatic component. This would be housing-plus."
The July 12 meeting's participants, led by AAIM's Robinson, are going to draft a proposal by July 31 with specifics about how to move forward. "I'm on call for whenever the group gets a proposal together," Thompson said. "I'm cautiously optimistic that the community will develop a proposal that I'm able to work with to expand into more traditional transitional housing."
One issue to work out is whether the new housing will be scatter or cluster site. Housing Works President and CEO Charles King participated in the meeting with Thompson to help lay out the possibilities. "I credit Craig for inviting Charles King to come talk at the meeting and for making this meeting happen," Colomb said. "We've never had providers sit in a room to discuss a change in how that programming is administered."
Mardis said she might favor scatter-site housing so people with HIV aren't segregated from others. But in the world of AIDS advocacy, figuring out the answer to such questions is a nice problem to have.