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What's Housing Got to Do With It?

By Lola Adele-Oso

November 15, 2010

For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.

Lola Adele-Oso

Lola Adele-Oso

Since 1988, the world has marked Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day -- a day of raising HIV/AIDS awareness, promoting the need for sexual education, fighting stigma and prejudice and raising funds for the thousands of programs in dire need of monetary support. The global theme for this year's World AIDS Day, like the last, is "Universal Access and Human Rights."

Article 25 of The United Nations "The Declaration of Human Rights" states, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him [or her]self and of his [or her] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his [or her] control."

As we approach Dec. 1, each of us is gearing up to carry a banner in support of HIV-related issues that are near and dear to our hearts, community, work, activism and advocacy efforts. Whether our focus is access to adequate health care and lifesaving medication, promoting research and the need for a cure, better HIV prevention messaging, resources for the Global Fund or ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, we must not forget one critical component in the fight to end the global epidemic of HIV/AIDS: HOUSING!

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The number one question I get asked as an advocate for housing for people living with HIV/AIDS is: What has housing got to do with HIV/AIDS? I am even more amazed when the question is asked by those in the AIDS community. My response-: Housing is a basic need. Housing is a human right. Housing is health care.

With the current state of the global economy, the world is experiencing increased poverty and unemployment, lack of education, domestic violence, violation of women's property and inheritance rights, and increasing numbers of households on housing waiting lists and unmet housing needs. Clearly, lack of safe, secure and stable housing undeniably impacts the increasing numbers of HIV infections worldwide.

HIV remains a uniquely infectious agent with potentially fatal consequences and rapid spread in vulnerable populations, especially in low- to extremely low-income communities. Research data show a strong relationship between housing status and HIV risk and health outcomes. Numerous studies and Housing First model programs support the argument that the receipt of safe, secure and stable housing assistance is linked to reduction of HIV risk behaviors and positive change in medical outcomes. In addition, being stably housed affects an individual's ability to avoid exposure to HIV; an HIV-positive individual's ability to avoid exposing others to HIV; and the ability to access and adhere to care.

After years of tireless AIDS housing advocacy, 2010 has brought significant validation to housing as a critical component in the fight to end HIV/AIDS in the United States of America. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted H. Con. Res. 137, "expressing the sense of the Congress that the lack of adequate housing must be addressed as a barrier to effective HIV prevention, treatment and care, and that the United States should make a commitment to providing adequate funding for developing housing as a response to the AIDS pandemic." They also appropriated a $15 million funding level increase for HOPWA [Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS], the nation's only dedicated program addressing the housing and service needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Obama administration released its National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), the first ever domestic HIV/AIDS strategy for the United States, which acknowledges the linkage between housing and HIV in goal 3 of the NHAS -- Increasing Access to Care and Improving Health Outcomes. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)' first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness, titled "Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness," and the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s Strategic Plan for FY 2010-2015, both recognize and support the argument of housing as health care. These plans take a bolder stance than the NHAS in declaring that stable, healthy housing is inextricably tied to individual health and also, that aligning housing and health services is the only way to successful advances in homelessness and HIV/AIDS.

While housing advocacy continues to make great strides, AIDS housing needs more advocates and supporters. There are currently an estimated 128,187 households (as reported to HUD) in the U.S. with unmet AIDS supportive housing needs. Continue to educate yourselves, your health services administrators and your elected officials on housing's importance in the fight against HIV/AIDS, poverty and homelessness. The National AIDS Housing Coalition's Web site has tons of resources to help you become an effective AIDS housing advocate.

Never forget, human rights specify the minimum conditions for human dignity and a tolerable life. They attach to all persons equally, by virtue of their humanity, irrespective of race, nationality or HIV status. Advocate for housing assistance, funding for AIDS housing and public housing programs this World AIDS Day -- and every day that one more person is infected with HIV.

Lola Adele-Oso is a community organizer with the National AIDS Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C.




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