Column: Housing is Health

I wrote, edited, and assisted with media placement for World AIDS Day.

Launch Project

Philadelphia Gay News

Justin Gero

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bringing an end to AIDS is only possible if we first get people off the streets and into homes. This World AIDS Day, PGN and ActionAIDS are focusing on housing, the No. 1 concern for people living with HIV/AIDS today. Without housing, people with AIDS have little chance of staying healthy, and society has little chance of stopping the spread of HIV. Simply put: Housing is health. Housing is prevention.

The largest HIV/AIDS service provider in Pennsylvania, ActionAIDS, reports that nearly one in five of the people the agency serves does not have permanent housing. In addition, many with homes are at risk of losing them. Close to 75 percent of the people using ActionAIDS services are living below the poverty level.

A poor economy exacerbates these problems and has increased the need for housing support. ActionAIDS’ emergency fund (the Michael Taylor Fund) is almost exhausted from the high demand for urgent financial assistance this past year.

Cruelly, while an HIV diagnosis makes stable housing all the more essential, it also compounds the difficulty of finding a secure home. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that an astonishing 50 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS are at risk of homelessness. This is due to the high cost of medications and the danger of losing their jobs due to discrimination.

Living on the street with HIV is a virtual death sentence. HIV reduces the body’s ability to fight disease, making a clean home crucial to survival. Overcrowded shelters can often increase a person’s risk of illness. In fact, homeless individuals are three to six times more likely than people with a home to get sick.

This also means the homeless are at a higher risk of getting HIV. The CDC estimates HIV infection is 8.5 times more prevalent in homeless people than in the general population. Proven HIV-prevention methods are less effective for the homeless because of the added stress of finding food and shelter. The homeless (especially women) are also more likely to be the victims of violence. All of these factors make depression and risky behavior more likely. This in turn makes it harder to treat and prevent HIV.

Although scientific advances have been made, HIV-positive people cannot benefit from therapy without a home. AIDS drugs can dramatically increase the quality and length of life, but people with HIV must follow a complex system that is virtually impossible without a home, clean water and refrigeration.

Research has shown that people with HIV/AIDS who get housing assistance are healthier and less likely to spread the disease. They are more likely to seek medical care and less likely to engage in risky behavior that could infect others.

Housing for people with HIV/AIDS is a positive investment in our society that improves public health and prevents costly ER visits. Homes are the next step to ending the AIDS epidemic. Housing is essential for treatment and prevention of HIV and provides security, for which there is no substitute.