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HIV/AIDS patients face unique housing challenges

March 24, 2013

This is the thirteenth in a series of articles on agencies that participate in the Midland County Continuum of Care.

Stable housing is one vital key to helping individuals who have AIDS or are HIV positive receive the medical care
they need. Lacking a decent place to live, they are not likely to obtain adequate treatment.

“HIV/AIDS is killing people. Without treatment they will die,” said Tina Counterman, a social worker for the AIDS Care Program provided through Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center (SHRC).

Counterman’s role is four-fold: to connect AIDS/HIV positive individuals to treatment and payment for it, to help obtain transportation to medical care, to assist with finding stable housing, and to help people get testing.

“The good news is that the life-span of AIDS/HIV positive individuals is increasing where regular treatment is available,” Counterman said. “Every year one person makes changes they need to make it and live.”

Yet despite improvement in the overall health of those who have the disease, one thing has not changed. “There is still a stigma. People with the disease have to hide,“ she said

To assure stable housing Counterman tries to bring both short and long term housing solutions to those in need. Short-term help includes crisis help with mortgage and utility payments and repairs.

Longer term assistance is focussed on permanent housing placement. A Federal program called TRBA (Tenant-based Rental Assistance) pays a portion of rent and follows the person if a move is necessary for up to two years.

“Some of the people so assisted become healthy enough to get off SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and go to work or school,” Counterman said.

In Midland County there are currently 11 individuals diagnosed as HIV positive and another 14 who have AIDS. The actual count may vary since only those diagnosed here are counted.

The typical case that Counterman encounters is a young person with no work history and living on $698 a month from SSI. “Midland provides very limited housing for someone under 65 years of age,” she said.

Funds to underwrite the housing aspect of SHRC’s AIDS Care Program come from HUD and the Michigan Department of Community Health. The Ryan White Care Act, enacted by Congress in 1990, provides support for case management, copays for medical care, transportation, and mental health services.

SHRC provides 10 Michigan counties with a broad array of behavioral health services covering substance abuse, mental health, and specialized programs for women, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention and care management. The nearest SHRC outpatient services are in Bay City and Saginaw.

The SHRC AIDS Care Program participates in Midland County Continuum of Care, a collaboration of more than 20 agencies working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

SHRC website: http://sacredheartcenter.com.

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