AIDS Issues Update Blog

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Message from New Orleans: AIDS Housing Advocates Call For Activist Firepower

Posted by , September 21, 2011

Message from New Orleans: AIDS Housing Advocates Call For Activist Firepower

Research is just the first step in changing AIDS policy, said Christine Campbell.

NEW ORLEANS—More than 300 people have gathered here this week for the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit.

The turnout is the largest in the summit’s six-year history, a testament to the growing number of AIDS organizations that recognize housing as a critical tool to preventing and treating HIV.

Officially, the conference hasn’t even begun yet—the opening event is tonight. But attendees are already planning how to harness the research presented this week to create palpable policy change, particularly at a time when politicians are increasingly unlikely to support expanded social service programs.

“Research won’t change policy without activism,” said Wanda Hernandez, an HIV-positive board member of the activist group VOCAL-New York. “Policy around people living with HIV/AIDS is a social justice issue. We have to create urgency among politicians, the same urgency we feel in our communities.”

At a pre-conference session that focused on reducing disparities in HIV health outcomes, speakers shared how they use research in combination with street-level activism to meet policy objectives.

Christine Campbell, Housing Works’ vice president of national advocacy and organizing, explained how Housing Works pushed UN members to include access to affordable housing in a recent critical UN declaration.

Joe Scarborough of the Delaware HIV Consortium explained how he convinced his state’s legislature to pass a resolution recognizing adequate housing as a prevention and treatment tool.

“My challenge to everyone is to take this [document] home, take it to your planning councils, take it to your advocacy committees, take it to your legislators, and by this time next year, let’s have everybody pass one,” said Scarborough.

Sean Barry of VOCAL-New York described a successful voter education campaign that both registered unstably housed people and encouraged them to get further involved in changing laws and policies that affect their lives.

According to the National AIDS Housing Coalition, more than 140,000 households with HIV in the U.S. lack stable housing. A growing body of research shows that by providing housing, we can prevent the spread of HIV, improve the likelihood that an individual accesses HIV care, and improve HIV health outcomes.

The summit allows policy experts to share that research—and convince the rest of the AIDS activist world that housing is a critical prevention and treatment tool.

Follow the Update blog on Twitter @housingworks.

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