Ending Homelessness to End AIDS
Although many improvements have been made in housing policy for people with HIV, there is still much work to be done. Advocates are working on a variety of policies even now. While the creation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was a critical step, it still must be implemented. The AIDS community is holding the government accountable for steady progress and actually prioritizing housing as a key intervention against AIDS. NAHC will continue advocacy to pass legislation introduced to Congress and to follow up on a Resolution passed by the House in 2010, titled "The Role of Housing as an Essential Component of HIV Prevention, Treatment, and Care".
Changes must also be made to the way HOPWA distributes funds to reflect what the epidemic looks like today. Funding must be based on the number of HIV diagnoses, not AIDS cases, since the latter grossly underestimates the true need. We must also demand a fairer grant-making process -- one that recognizes variations across the nation by factoring in rates of poverty and housing costs in each community.
Making It Happen
Whether you work in an organization or you're an individual trying to make a difference, there are many ways to get involved. Successful advocacy depends on diverse strategies. This article focuses on national policy, but the following ideas will work equally well on the local level.
Education, both internal and external, is an essential first strategy, and it's something anyone can do. Internal advocacy means educating the HIV community itself. For example, it's important to find ways to combine housing advocacy with efforts to ensure access to care and prevention. A coalition makes each issue stronger, especially when everyone understands how they are related. External education is also essential. People who can move policy forward, like those in Congress, may be unaware how many of their constituents need housing assistance, or may not understand how effective housing is in preventing HIV. Anyone can call, email, or visit their representatives to provide this kind of education. NAHC is a member of the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership and works to ensure that housing is included as a priority in its work. NAHC also regularly holds Congressional briefings to educate new representatives and ensure that those returning keep our issues on their radar.
"People with HIV also need to be front and center when talking about policy. Ensuring that they are seen and heard beyond just telling a success or victimization story not only strengthens advocacy but breaks down the stigma of living with HIV."
When it comes to educating government representatives, it is absolutely essential that people with HIV are included, and in meaningful ways. Often they are simply asked to share their personal stories. This is certainly important to humanize the issue and can be quite powerful, but it's not enough. People with HIV also need to be front and center when talking about policy. Ensuring that they are seen and heard beyond just telling a success or victimization story not only strengthens advocacy but breaks down the stigma of living with HIV.
Community or "grassroots" organizing is invaluable. While education is important, we can never forget that education alone is not advocacy! The goal is change, not awareness. And for that to happen people need to join together, since their collective voice can make all the difference. To stop the 24-month rule discussed earlier, it was crucial that HRSA hear from the community itself. Grassroots organizing has traditionally meant groups of people meeting in person. Now, it increasingly includes social media and online networking to bring people together.
But what happens when a community has joined together, educated decision-makers, and offered a solution, but nothing happens?
Direct action takes many forms and is used by activists to "turn up the volume" when they are not being heard. There are many different direct action tactics, but all of them are more public than education-based advocacy. An effective action always has a specific target: someone who can make change happen. Media coverage is often a major goal.
Using the media helps in several ways. Elected officials, concerned with staying in office, are very image-conscious and aware of what the media is saying about them. Media attention can bring an issue to the public's attention, which can create more support and help put pressure on the target. After all, it is much easier to ignore activist demands if no one else knows about them.
When advocating against the 24-month rule, direct action involved a call-in campaign to Members of Congress. Other types of direct action include Twitter and letter-writing campaigns, rallies and protest marches, and civil disobedience for those willing to risk arrest. Housing Works, among several other AIDS activist groups, is well known for creative and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Ready to Advocate? Start Here!
Advocates are well aware of the truth in Frederick Douglass' words: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." The evidence shows us that to end the epidemic we will need to address housing and other community needs, along with biomedical interventions. We have the science, the treatments, and the resources -- all we need is the political will. If you're ready to join the fight, look at the resources below and get in touch with us.
We can and will end AIDS.
Nancy Bernstine is the Executive Director of NAHC.
Christine Campbell is the VP of National Advocacy and Organizing at Housing Works.
Christine Rodriguez, Program Associate at Housing Works, also contributed to this article.
This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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