Wednesday, May 25, 2016

AIDS and Homelessness Activists Convene Town Hall to Combat Youth Homelessness and HIV

On Tuesday, May 24, 2016, ACT UP NY, homeless youth, and over 15 NGOs will convene a Town Hall at the LGBT Community Center (from 6-8pm) to address the overlapping HIV and homelessness epidemics in New York City and around the State.

The Town Hall will confront several drivers of the HIV epidemic among homeless youth, including housing instability (particularly among youth aged 21-24), discontinuity in health care, employment instability, limited education and skill development opportunities, and inadequate coordination among service providers.

In New York City, nearly 24,000 children, sleep in shelters or on the streets each night. Up to 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ — although they make up just 5 to 10% of the overall youth population. They are forced onto the streets because of family strife and rejection of their gender identities and/or sexual orientation. Once homeless, LGBTQ youth are 7 times more likely than heteronormative youth to turn to sex work to survive, often exchanging sex for food or shelter instead of money. Surveyed youth emphasized that employment, short- and long-term housing, and education opportunities were integral to leaving the sex trade.

Survival sex, injection drug use, and barriers to healthcare fuel the AIDS epidemic in New York and around the country. 1 in 5 people newly infected with HIV are 13-24 years old; the vast majority are youths of color. Avoiding just one HIV infection can save $229,800 in lifetime medical costs (by conservative estimates).

“Homeless services often overlook particular risks and do not link HIV prevention and treatment in the broader context of empowerment and improvement of overall quality of life for this population,” said Victor Thompson-Mas, ACT UP NY. “We invite City Council members, state legislators, and representatives from government agencies focused on housing, homeless, and HIV/AIDS services to show their commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic in New York and respond to our policy recommendations.”

Youth representatives will present proposals, including:

  • Easier eligibility for accessing comprehensive health, trauma, and substance abuse services, with specific considerations for transgender patients;
  • Expanded and consistent HIV prevention outreach in all homeless facilities, including HIV prevention outreach in the HOME-STAT program;
  • Expanded and improved harm reduction approaches across the State, including the establishment of supervised injection facilities;
  • Improved coordination among agencies and service providers through designated coordinators on health and employment for homeless youth;
  • Inclusion and participation of clients in city- and state-level HIV and homelessness decision-making processes; and
  • Accountability of agencies and services providers, in partnership with a client-led advocacy group.

“I hope we can walk away from Town Hall with some new ideas, resources, and solutions for how we can do better to serve all LGBTQ youth who are at risk for or who are currently living with HIV, especially those who are unstably housed,” said Legacee Medina, a young advocate who has dealt with homelessness and who will be presenting at the Town Hall.

We need to address the problem of youth homelessness!!!
Thank you Bryn Marie! And Legacee for your eloquent discussion !!! ‪#‎housingpreventshiv‬
Photo by Michael Kerr
Photo by Michael Kerr

After the forum, Jim Eigo wrote:

What an inspiring event! And the best thing is: it will not end here. bryn & Victor & all their colleagues have put together two important documents on the Health Priorities & Employment Priorities for Homeless Youth, very impressive in scope and detail. After reading these documents and hearing all the Youth testimony at this event—real-live commentary on the issues those documents deal with—I have a much clearer picture of those gaps and "disconnects" in the system that can make the lives of homeless Youth so much harder than they need to be.

I know the ACT UP members who worked on this event have ideas on what issues to focus on in their ongoing campaign. I know a couple of takeaways for me: 1) The voucher system for housing is broken when so many Youth, vouchers in hand, still cannot find shelter. It is not enough that programs to help people who are homeless exist: it is the responsibility of the city to make them work in the real world! 2) There is a wealth of human capital and personal experience among homeless Youth, especially the LGBT Youth that we heard from at this event. We must have peer worker training programs that make use of this great, untapped resource with the goal of actually paying Youth a living wage for their expertise and service. We must have other training programs for youth that help them become the artisans or entrepreneurs or professionals they dream of being. Our failure to help Youth in this area is a terrible waste both to the Youth and to the city!

I hope ACT UP NY now helps bryn & Victor & company translate their revelatory x-ray of the system into action items that address the needs we heard expressed so powerfully last night.

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