October 21, 2010
This is the second installment of the series on housing and HIV/AIDS. In this article, we will explore the basic explanation of the connection between housing, medication adherence, programs and why it should matter to you. There are so many layers and obstacles to the housing issue. This article does not cover them all but it's a start.
Housing is a critical issue in America. Housing for someone with HIV is literally a matter of life or death. When a person has stable housing, he/she is more likely to adhere to their medications and thus lead a healthier life. (There are a myriad of studies to support this statement however this is the basic explanation.) One of the problems is that there are currently more than 670,000 people who are currently homeless in America (that includes HIV positive and negative people). In DC, there are about 96.6 homeless persons per 10,000 people. That would rank it 10th for highest rates in the country. When a person has nowhere to live, they have nowhere to store their belongings. So finding their medications among all of their possessions in a small space (such as a car) can be a huge obstacle. Another problem is properly storing their medication for HIV or other health problems. Some meds that keep people with HIV healthy must be refrigerated. They may be able to get by in the winter but storing medications outside of a refrigerator will not work during the sweltering summer days. Pills can melt, particularly capsules. So adherence to AIDS medications is a big deal.
There are several programs that are designed to help people with HIV obtain affordable housing but the road to that goal is rocky at best. The most well known program is Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA). The HOPWA program is the only Federal program dedicated to address the housing needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families. It sounds promising but the sad truth is that the waiting list to be enrolled in the HOPWA program currently stands at over 700 in DC alone. Other programs do exist to assist people with HIV in finding housing such as the National Housing Trust Fund, Ryan White Care Act, The Second Chance Act, and Section Eight. The waiting lists for these programs are also quite lengthy. One simple reason why these programs are failing to place people into homes is lack of funding. Another reason for the waiting list, arguably, is poor management. There are not enough checks and balances within these programs to ensure everyone is helped. (There are several other reasons but again this is a basic explanation).
Catherine An, Media Relations and Communications Specialist at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, gives a more in-depth answer to this question. "It's important to recognize that -- while homelessness is absolutely a critical problem in the United States -- we have seen measurable reductions throughout the year. Not only did homelessness decline by a solid ten percent overall from 2005 to 2007, we see in the latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (authored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), homelessness stayed flat since 2007 even during this recession." She adds, "homelessness occurs when people cannot find housing they can afford. As housing costs continue to outpace the financial means of lower-income individuals and families, they grow increasingly at-risk of experiencing homelessness."
Simply put, when people are homeless, you pay more taxes. People who are homeless are more likely to access the most costly health care services in emergency rooms, spend more time in jail or prison (a typical cost of a prison bed in a state or federal prison is $20,000 per year), and are more likely to rely on social services and emergency shelters which are typically funded by the state. Your tax dollars provide these services. So the greater the demand, the more you will pay. Providing housing coupled with supportive services as needed is actually more cost-efficient than letting these people experience homelessness. As the country struggles to recover from a recession, it is crucial that taxes be lowered to keep more dollars in citizens' pockets.
For a more realistic view of how homelessness affects people with HIV, please read about Sharon and Anthony Jones, a homeless couple in DC who are living with HIV. They were featured in the first installment of this series.
For more information about AIDS and homelessness, visit the National AIDS Housing Coalition website. It has the most up to date information and fact sheets available.
Get tested. Get care. Get involved.