The Annual Meeting of the Delaware HIV Consortium in May brought together providers from across the State to celebrate the accomplishments of 2013. They had an opportunity to renew their passion and their vision for helping those with HIV improve their quality of life.
HIV/AIDS service providers have a shared purpose to:
- Guide people to get tested for HIV;
- Get those who test positive for HIV into medical care and counseling to prevent the transmission of the disease;
- Work to keep them in HIV medical care; and
- Keep them taking their HIV medicines as prescribed and stay on them in order to increase their chances of suppressing the virus.
Consortium members believe that following this treatment cascade may help prevent the spread of the virus and may help stop the HIV epidemic. The Delaware HIV Consortium has been providing housing assistance to low-income individuals with HIV since 1998.
According to Dianne Casey, Director of Housing Programs for the Consortium, HUD's Housing Opportunities for Persons With Aids (HOPWA) program provides the primary funding for the Consortium's housing program.
Last year, 131 households were housed through this program which means 212 persons were kept off the streets. The majority, two-thirds, live in New Castle County and the rest are scattered throughout Kent and Sussex Counties. Casey reported that in 2013, 88% of their clients had extremely low incomes. Unfortunately at the end of 2013, there was a waiting list for housing. Casey says there is a low transition rate out of the program due to long waiting lists for other subsidized housing programs.
According to an annual consumer survey, 84% of the clients would be homeless or risking homelessness if they were no longer receiving assistance. The results showed 99% were satisfied with subsidized housing and 100% were satisfied with the program.
Casey highlighted the Consortium's 12 year collaboration with Connections, Inc. to house women with HIV in a HOPWA funded Permanent Supportive Housing program in Wilmington. More than half of them were able to maintain employment and enrollment in school. While celebrating the successes of the past year, the Consortium meeting featured speakers who inspired providers to renew their commitment to meeting the needs of those with HIV, and to realize their significance in working towards making Delaware HIV free.
The first speaker, Adam Taliaferro, the Penn State football player who broke his neck during a game against rival Ohio State, encouraged the providers to continue helping people with HIV. He related that he had only a 3% chance of ever walking again, but he fought with the help of so many people to not only walk but to walk well. As he stood before the group, he told the audience that prior to his injury he could do everything for himself but after his injury, he had to be helped with everything. He explained that the providers need to continue to help people with HIV because they provide hope where there may not be any; and they stand in the gap sometimes between despair and a vision of a future. Taliaferro said that he is a living breathing testament to those who helped him and how they inspired him, gave him hope when he had none, and made him believe that he could walk. He said what people did for him is what HIV providers do for their clients.
Keynote speaker Derek Spencer, the Executive Director of the JACQUES Initiative at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine, talked about what it would take to get to an AIDS free Delaware.
He said a national HIV AIDS Strategy calls for:
- Reducing new infections;
- Increasing access to health care;
- Examining disparities in our own community; and
- Achieving a more coordinated response.
He urged the audience to have a vision of success. He said, "Vision is greater than knowledge. Vision establishes a plan for the knowledge to be applied." He added that the biggest challenge to getting to zero new infections, zero deaths and zero stigmas is partnership, "There is an incredible power in partnership."
Spencer also encouraged the providers to believe in themselves. He ended his presentation with a slide of a cat looking in the mirror and the reflection in the mirror was a lion. With that, Spencer challenged the audience, "Don't see yourself as 'just' an ordinary person, see the power that you have and use it everyday to make Delaware AIDS free."