Over the course of the past three-and-a-half decades, we have seen dramatic changes in the AIDS epidemic. For many individuals, advances in treatment and care have made HIV a manageable chronic condition. Unfortunately, though, for too many people living with HIV, poverty or a financial crisis can make obtaining care and maintaining their health almost impossible.
In 2016, as we were marking the 35th year of the epidemic and approaching the 30th AIDS Walk Philly, AIDS Fund’s staff and board made the decision to evolve our mission. While we continue to raise awareness and educate about HIV, we now also provide small grants for the most vulnerable Philadelphians living with HIV. To pay honor to our original name and to reflect the diversity of those affected by the epidemic and in need of assistance, we named the new grant program the From All Walks of Life Fund.
For people living with HIV disease, stable housing is one of the strongest predictors of their access to treatment, their health outcomes and how long they will live. One of the first grants AIDS Fund provided was to a grandfather living with HIV disease. His daughter died tragically and he suddenly found himself caring for his two grandchildren. Living on disability, “Sam’s” budget was already very tight, and with the additional expenses of caring for his grandchildren, he unfortunately fell behind on his rent. As he was already living in subsidized housing, there were no government programs available to assist him. With the client facing eviction, and no place else to turn, his medical case manager submitted an application for financial assistance, and AIDS Fund provided a modest grant for $270 in a few short days. This small grant was enough to settle up his rent, as well as prevent Sam and his family from homelessness.
Although “George” had transitioned from homelessness to permanent housing three years prior, he was living with HIV on disability. With such a small income, he was never able to put together enough money to purchase a bed. Consequently, he was developing back problems from sleeping on the floor. With a small grant of $250 from AIDS Fund, within three days he had a new bed to help him sleep and live healthier.
For “Mary,” who was living with HIV and diabetes, a refrigerator to keep her insulin cold was critical to maintaining good health. With limited resources, even the smallest dormitory-size refrigerator was out of reach for her. AIDS Fund provided a grant of just $170 so Mary could have a refrigerator that she could use for both food and medicine.
These are just a few of the hundreds of people we have been able to help over the few months since the beginning of the From All Walks of Life Fund. We know that you can’t maintain your health when you don’t have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in or access to regular health care. We also now know that the medicines that help people with HIV live long and healthy lives also keep them from passing the virus onto others. Keeping people in the health-care system is critical for ending this epidemic.
Since our founding, we have been committed to fighting the HIV epidemic until this crisis is over. Advances in treatment and new prevention strategies have now made “Getting to Zero” — zero stigma, zero new infections and zero deaths — an achievable goal. By focusing on direct resources for those with the greatest needs in the Greater Philadelphia region, together we can reach the goal of getting to zero.
Robb Reichard has worked for over 25 years in support of the HIV/AIDS community in Philadelphia. Since 2004, Robb has been executive director of AIDS Fund, which increases public awareness of HIV/AIDS and provides emergency financial assistance to the most vulnerable people living with HIV disease in the Greater Philadelphia region. Their signature events, AIDS Walk/Run Philly and GayBINGO, support their mission. For more information, visit http://www.aidsfundphilly.org.