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HIV Hurricane Relief Effort - There's Still Work to be Done

HIV Hurricane Relief Effort meeting in Ponce, PR
The HIV Hurricane Relief Effort started immediately after Hurricane Irma, during the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in 2017. Many attendees were stranded in Washington, DC, due to the storm. NMAC - the USCA organizer - proposed starting a fund to support conference attendees and asked AIDS United to coordinate it. From there, other funders got on board: Gilead Sciences, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, ViiV Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, the Ford Foundation, Henry van Ameringen, the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, Howard Brown Health Center, and some individual donations. The focus was expanded to help organizations that work with individuals living with and affected by HIV and that were recovering from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and María. Between corporate, non-profit, and individual donations, we received over $2.2 million, which we continue to grant out today.

The HIV Hurricane Relief Effort is unique among AIDS United’s grantmaking portfolios. It was our first fund to support rapid-response grantmaking and remains our only initiative to focus exclusively on this kind of grant. It’s also one of our most flexible funds. Grants can be used to support everything from replacing organizations’ roofs and floors to assisting clients with buying new appliances and mattresses, gaining access to transportation, and purchasing children’s school uniforms.

We’ve funded 50 organizations so far. For many, Hurricane Relief funding was what allowed them to open their doors again and to provide services to their clients, as well as assisting their own traumatized staff. In just the first few months of the fund, these grants have supported over 40,000 people in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, the US Virgin Islands, and Alabama, as well as folks who were displaced to Illinois, South Carolina, and Georgia.

AIDS United recently completed site visits to the three areas most impacted by last year’s hurricanes: Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Houston, TX; and San Juan, Arecibo, Mayagüez, and Ponce, PR. During those meetings, we heard innumerable stories of how HIV organizations and their clients were devastated by the storms. For example, immediately after the hurricanes, people living with and affected by HIV struggled to navigate FEMA’s system, find safe and affordable housing, access harm reduction supplies, and replace medications. Many organizations found that their clients did not have basic emergency supplies, like flashlights, first aid kits, can openers, toiletries, and solar-powered chargers.

Particular communities were also affected in specific ways. For instance, transgender people struggled to find affirming emergency shelters and often lacked documents that supported their gender identities, making it difficult to access services. Many undocumented immigrants faced similar issues with a lack of government-issued IDs. And clients living with HIV found their medications stolen at shelters or, if they were suddenly living with family who didn’t know of their status, had to figure out how to hide them.

Mental health and depression were also a large issue for all communities, with folks being isolated and not having their social-emotional needs met. Many were already facing trauma before the storms, including from HIV stigma; homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all the other ways people can face marginalization and oppression; and, in Puerto Rico, from the impact of colonialism on their daily lives. The hurricanes served to exacerbate these mental health and socio-political challenges. Several grantees reported that, when they were finally able to visit their clients in their homes, they were often the first people those individuals had seen since the hurricanes had hit. As a result, clients often cried, asked for hugs, and wanted to tell their case workers everything they had experienced.

Unfortunately, none of these issues has been resolved on a large scale, and many people living with and affected by HIV are no more prepared for this new hurricane season. In fact, due to the physical and financial devastation wrought by Harvey, Irma, and María, many are in a worse situation than a year ago.

Because of that the immense need, the HIV Hurricane Relief Effort is expanding to include preparedness funding. Organizations in the United States that serve individuals living with or affected by HIV can apply for funding in the areas of organizational preparedness or client preparedness. Applications are due August 17, 2018. See the HIV Hurricane Relief Effort’s webpage for more details, in both English and Spanish, and to apply.

Posted By: Shannon Wyss, Program Manager - Thursday, July 12, 2018

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