Atlantans Living with HIV Facing Eviction from HOPWA Housing
As the city of Atlanta withholds half a million dollars in federal HOPWA funding from the nonprofit organization that manages the rental assistance program, at least 70 residents living with HIV and their families face eviction, and hundreds more are at risk of future eviction and power shut-offs for non-payment of rent.
They and other HIV advocates in Atlanta demanded answers, accountability, and solutions from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at an August 1, 2019 community meeting about the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program. The city has withheld $21.2 million of its $23.1 million federal grant from 2018 to provide housing aid for people living with HIV.
“I found out last month that my rent has not been paid for the past three months,” said one HIV advocate and mother, diagnosed in 2003. “HOPWA has been my family’s lifeline for the past two years. My husband had a heart attack two years ago and has not been able to work since then, so our family of three has been getting by on my very limited single income. The only thing standing between housing and homelessness for my family right now is the generosity of my landlord.”
The current eviction crisis is not the first to plague the city’s management of the HOPWA grant. A coalition of local HIV and housing advocates wrote in a July 15 letter to the mayor, “Over the past two years, an organized group of advocates has clearly communicated our serious concerns to city officials in a variety of ways. We have documented critical problems, including (but certainly not limited to): poor housing quality, inconsistent service quality and interruptions in services; massive, crippling annual reimbursement delays to agencies that serve HOPWA clients; lack of a plan for HOPWA modernization funding cuts expected to take effect in FY22; lack of transparency in RFP process and scoring criteria, as well as a lack of community inclusion; [and] inconsistent monitoring and oversight of the HOPWA subrecipients by program leaders.”
Stable housing is an essential component in any plan to end the AIDS epidemic. Atlanta has the third-highest rate of new cases of HIV in the country. Failure to address housing for people living with HIV there could make the local epidemic worse, because without stable housing, people living with HIV have great difficulty remaining in care. The CDC confirms that adherence to antiretroviral treatment (ART) to the point of viral suppression is 100 percent effective at preventing sexual transmission of the virus.
“Housing is health care,” said Shyronn Jones, the Georgia State Lead for Positive Women’s Network–USA, a national advocacy organization of women living with HIV. “We won’t end the epidemic in Atlanta until we make sure the needs of people living with HIV are being met, and stable housing is one of the greatest needs. Atlanta can—and must—do better.”
Positive Women’s Network-USA is a national membership body of women living with HIV and our allies that exists to strengthen the strategic power of all women living with HIV in the United States. Read more at www.pwn-usa.org.
—Reporting by Hank Trout
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.