California: Legal Program for People With AIDS Marks 25 Years
November 10, 2008
San Francisco's AIDS Legal Referral Panel, the Bay Area's only nonprofit providing low- or no-cost legal services to people with HIV/AIDS, will mark its 25th anniversary on Nov. 13 with a fundraising reception. Bill Hirsh, its executive director, says not everyone understands the importance of ALRP's work.
"Sometimes it's hard for people to understand why legal needs are important relative to medical care and food. Nobody really thinks they need an attorney until they get an eviction notice or a denial of services [from an insurance company]," Hirsch said.
In the bleak early years of the epidemic, "A lot of what we were doing was responding to people who needed emergency wills," Hirsh said. "You would run out to the hospital and do an emergency will for your client." Most clients died soon after drawing up their will. "Wills are now about 10 percent of what we do. People are coming for assistance not only for dying but living with HIV," Hirsh said.
These days, the largest portion of requests for help have to do with housing issues. ALRP has two staff attorneys who help people with HIV respond to eviction notices and file fair housing complaints. Another staff attorney assists clients with insurance disputes. In addition to its five staff attorneys, ALRP relies on the volunteer assistance of some 700 area lawyers.
ALRP's annual budget is $800,000: 40 percent comes from government funds, and the rest from foundation and individual donations. This year, however, Hirsh expects to see its government and foundation money decline. At the same time, requests for help have increased by 36 percent in the past three years. "We are bracing for a very tough year next year," Hirsh said.
For more information, visit www.alrp.org.
Bay Area Reporter
11.06.2008; Heather Tirado Gilligan