There has been counterintuitive rise in HIV infections among youth, particularly young MSM (men who have sex with men). While HIV testing among youth is actually rising, condom use is simultaneously declining, with young MSM of color engaging in riskier behaviors, particularly unprotected sex.
But there is hope. Housing Works’ Youth Program aims to connect daily with New York City’s HIV+ and homeless youth through outreach and letting them know about the services and programs available, including HIV-testing, a drop-in center, and perhaps most importantly, the guidance and support of the program’s leaders, including Regnarian Jenkins.
As the Outreach Specialist for Housing Works’ Youth Program, Regnarian has a special connection to these youth, as he truly understands the challenges that they face. As a young HIV+ man himself, Regnarian has used his passion, personal experiences, and skills he obtained in Housing Works’ Job Training Program to expand outreach and the capacity of Youth Services. In fact, Regnarian and his mentor, Johnny Guaylupo, leaders of Housing Works’ Youth Program, were nominated for the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute’s Commissioners Award for their extraordinary efforts in raising HIV/AIDS awareness within the community and around New York State.
We recently spoke to Regnarian about his life, his passions, and his work within Housing Works’ Youth Program.
Housing Works: Why don’t we start with a little bit of your background? Could you tell us where you’re from, your age, and how you first become involved with Housing Works?
Regnarian Jenkins: I was originally born in North Carolina, but raised in Moreno Valley, California. My dad was in the military so we moved around a lot. I am 28 years young now. I first became involved with Housing Works by simply being a client newly diagnosed with HIV at the age of 25. I was scared and didn’t really comfortable asking for medical help. Housing Works reached out to me via email and kept calling and calling me to see if I would come in to learn about their services, and finally I gave in and said I would. After speaking to the intake coordinator for about a week I finally decided to give Housing Works a shot. I enrolled into Primary Care, along with their Adult Day Health Center program and began to feel a lot better. As my health began to get better, I began to see opportunities open up for my future.
After graduating, I obtained a position as a Case Follow-up Worker at Housing Works and then was transferred to East New York’s Housing Works site as an Outreach Specialist. I have been working as the Outreach Specialist for Housing Works’ Youth Program for the last year and a half, helping youth obtain their entitlements and informing them about HIV-related issues within the LGBT community.
HW: You speak very passionately about helping young HIV+ and homeless MSM. Why do you think Housing Works’ Programs and Services, such as its Youth Program, are so successful?
JB: I think that every organization has its own way of doing things, and we should all be grateful that there are a number of different places to seek services from, but Housing Works is something truly special. Being a grassroots, client-based organization that has always stuck to its core values is remarkable! Not every organization has the passion that it takes to protest in front of Congress Representatives over an extended period of time or talk about the issues that directly affect the HIV community, but Housing Works does. Not only are Housing Works’ staff trained by the best to become the best, but we also reach a forgotten demographic within the LGBT community that other places seem reluctant to reach out to. We are radical organization with one major goal: the equality of all people to be able to become self-sufficient and proper healthcare for those who need it.
HW: I understand that you are a graduate from Housing Works’ Second Life Job Training Program. Could you tell us about your experience in the program?
RJ: Being a graduate from the Job Training Program was an interesting experience. Initially, I only went to the program because I wanted to get money to pay for a trip to Atlanta Gay Pride (laughs,) but after one semester, I quickly learned that knowledge really is power. I began to regain my self-respect, my self-worth and thought to myself, Why not go for the gold and finish the entire program? So I studied everyday and gave the teachers hell along the way, but they worked with me to train me to be the very best that I possibly could become. And the result was that all of the blood, sweat and tears paid off, because I ended up graduating as the valedictorian in my class! I will never forget that experience!
HW: You and Johnny Guaylupo have been nominated for a New York State Commissioner’s Award for your work with young HIV+ youth—Congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit about the award and what this nomination has meant for you?
RJ: It is truly an honor to be nominated for this award. To actually get recognition for doing something that we both are very passionate about—helping young and HIV-positive youth—is just icing on the cake. I think that all of the nominees are grateful and this experience will be one for the books. This award is an outward expression of the hard work that has gone on within our community in the last year ranging from demonstrations, rallies, to advocating for our youth’s rights.
HW: What are your hopes and aspirations for the Housing Works Youth programming in the future?
RJ: My hopes and aspirations for Housing Works’ Youth Program is to open a daily, safe-space for our youth to gather and be able to express themselves freely. I would also like to facilitate more conversations that assist them in seeking informative facts to better serve their needs in reference to HIV and MSM issues.
Housing Works’ Youth Program offers an array of services for NYC youth, including connecting them to health care, housing, and stable medical and supportive services. Housing Works’ Youth Program also offers a drop-in center. To learn more, please visit the Youth Program’s webpage, and you can also follow them on Twitter at @HWYouth.
To learn more about Housing Works’ Second Life Job Training Program, please click here.blog comments powered by Disqus