By Ariel Jastromb
At the BLC 40% of our members are homeless or precariously housed. It is crucial then to connect BLC members with housing resources. The BLC will help members apply for specialized HIV public housing. We will also work with a member to maintain housing, with rental start-up, accessing furniture, utility assistance and homeless prevention support. These services are integral to the BLC’s holistic approach to helping members live healthier lives.
Home is where the health is for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. HIV in the United States is increasingly becoming a disease of the poor, especially in urban communities where homelessness is more present. Individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds are being faced with homelessness—especially in a dwindling economy.
“Homeless” does not only describe those living on the street. While street people are indeed homeless, there are plenty of full-time workers and seemingly “together” people that have no place to call their own. For someone living with HIV/AIDS, being homeless can complicate managing medications, nutrition and mental health.
People who are homeless are less likely to have information about HIV and how to prevent and treat the disease. This stems from several factors, including poor and infrequent medical care and prejudiced healthcare providers. Many people who suffer from homelessness do not often learn of their HIV status until the disease is extremely advanced, if at all. When the status is revealed, it can be difficult to pursue a course of effective treatment without a permanent address.
Medication affordability and adherence is an issue that all HIV/AIDS patients face. However, for the homeless individual, a glass of water or a meal with which to take certain medications cannot always be guaranteed. HIV medications come with many side effects that can be made somewhat easier by incorporating dietary changes or having access to cool towels to relieve a headache, saltines to relieve nausea, or restrooms in the case of medication-related diarrhea. Without regular access to these resources, adherence to a medication regimen is less likely to happen. A healthcare provider could suggest different medications for the person if, say, three meals a day could not be had but the lack of healthcare affords the homeless none of the information and constant monitoring that any HIV/AIDS patient needs.
Another factor that complicates the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the homeless individual is the lack of attention paid to why the individual is homeless. Treatment issues like substance abuse, domestic violence and shelter conditions keep people on the street and out of the “know.”
Acquisition of proper housing is perhaps the most crucial step when it comes to those living with HIV/AIDS. Treating the disease requires much effort and commitment from the individual. Without a place to store, track and take pills, or to administer the self-care involved, along with finding a healthcare provider and dealing with the issues encountered by the homeless, living with HIV/AIDS becomes increasingly difficult. For a long and healthy life it is important to secure housing for all people living with HIV/AIDS—a life can depend on it.