February 10, 2012
In 2005, Newport News-based Health and Home Support Services (HHSS) received a grant to start a "pre-release" program to help inmates with HIV/AIDS prepare for their transition out of prison. Until that time, the East End nonprofit's sole focus was residential medical assistance for seniors and the indigent.
Pre-release case managers work with clients from Williamsburg to Currituck County who are nearing the end of their sentences. They visit jails almost every day, check that clients are taking their medication, and talk about HIV infection. One of the tasks is helping clients become more comfortable with disclosing their serostatus to loved ones. That is a major hurdle for many, said Gwendolyn Ellis-Wilson, a pre-release case manager.
With more funding since 2005, the group has expanded to work with other HIV/AIDS patients and high-risk individuals. HHSS also can help former inmates who need temporary shelter, thanks to recent funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF).
Housing had been a missing piece, said Marolyn Edmonds, the group's program administrator. Many of the inmates have been written off by family and friends, said Ellis-Wilson. Without housing, it was difficult to make sure clients adhered to treatment. The EJAF money will allow HHSS to rent two homes and buy one in Newport News.