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TAG and Ali Forney Center Address HIV in Homeless LGBT Youth

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Jul 29, 2013
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In an effort to address the rising number of homeless LGBT youth with HIV, the Ali Forney Center has teamed up with the Treatment Action Group (TAG) for a unique donor-driven partnership. The partnership is being developed through the generosity of Frank Selvaggi and Bill Shea, longtime activists and philanthropists, who are donating $50K to the Ali Forney Center to support a housing development fund to expand access to shelter for homeless youth and $50K to fund a new policy coordinator staff position at TAG.

"The Ali Forney Center is once again moved by and grateful for the generosity of Frank Selvaggi and Bill Shea," said AFC Executive Director Carl Siciliano. "One of our most challenging tasks is providing support for youth clients that have tested positive for the HIV virus. In addition to the family rejection and numerous other challenges of surviving on the streets, finding out that they are HIV positive puts them at twice the risk of hospitalization for suicide attempts."

Siciliano explained that the current HIV prevention efforts directed at homeless youth typically focus only on condom distribution and HIV prevention education. They do not address the core issue in the equation: the lack of shelter these young people face.

"This is a policy doomed to failure," said Siciliano. "Nothing heightens the risk of homeless youth becoming infected with HIV more than the lack of shelter and nothing diminishes their risk behaviors more than providing them with shelter."

LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness, in fact they are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than their straight counterparts. Once homeless, many turn to sex work to survive, oftentimes exchanging sex for food or shelter instead of money. As a result, they have much higher incidences of drug use, depression, anxiety, severe mental health issues and suicidal ideation. They also experience high rates of HIV infection.

TAG’s Executive Director Mark Harrington said that TAG will hire a full-time prevention research and policy coordinator to implement an ambitious advocacy agenda to generate political leadership, research and policy initiatives to more effectively address the current crisis in HIV prevention in the United States. This campaign will focus on the highest-risk populations including homeless youth, transgendered persons and young men who have sex with men.

"Just as service providers worked with activists and researchers in the 1990s to speed up the development of effective HIV combination therapy, we need to work together now to end transmission among our high-risk youth," said Harrington.

Selvaggi echoed this sentiment, noting that the fact that the HIV infection rate in the LGBT community has not changed since the early ’90s was disturbing and sad.

"We need to do a much better job at educating and sheltering our youth and for me and Bill, helping fund and coordinate the effort between two amazing organizations is the place to start," said Selvaggi.


AFC Launches Housing Development Fund

There are approximately 3,800 homeless youth on the streets of New York City, and an estimated 40 percent identify as LGBTQ. There are fewer than 400 beds for these young people. These statistics prompted Selvaggi and Shea’s plan to donate $50K to the Ali Forney Center to support the housing development fund to expand access to shelter for homeless youth.

"In the fall of 2013, AFC is launching a Housing Development Fund to introduce new housing and shelter beds for these young people," said the two in a statement. "This is in response to the lack of government funding and the increasing rate at which these young people are being rejected by their parents, kicked out of their homes and subsequently engaging in survival sex for food and shelter."

HIV is becoming increasingly prevalent among youth ages 13-24. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 4 people infected with HIV are 13-24 years old. The vast majority are youths of color. In 2010, 1,000 new HIV infections occurred each month within this demographic.

A recent New York Times article cites a study done by John Jay College that indicates that almost 90 percent of the surveyed minors who engage in survival sex indicated that they would stop if they could, but they cited lack of shelter as a major barrier to doing so. This campaign is one way to help them get off the street and away from the prostitution that leads to these high rates of HIV infection.

"There are many ways to support the fight against HIV and AIDS," said Shea. "Given the clear connection between how unstable housing -- homelessness -- is a conduit for high-risk behavior and HIV infection we are supporting the Ali Forney Center in their effort to create housing for these young people. We are matching every new dollar raised, up to $50,000, towards this initiative to help kick off the Housing Development Fund. Join us in helping AFC."


To make a contribution to the Ali Forney Center’s Housing Development Fund visit www.aliforneycenter.org/campaign/housingdevelopment


Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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