AAIMing for More
At a summit for HIV-positive activists and their allies in the South, folks from Tennessee and Georgia joined Mississippi residents to share information and stories about how to improve AIDS services for Southerners living with HIV.
The 4th Annual AAIM for Life Summit was a weekend-long conference, beginning last Friday that took place at Lakeville Cottage, a campsite in Louisville, Mississippi. The event was organized by AIDS Action in Mississippi (AAIM).
Although past summits were focused on people living in Mississippi, broadening participation to people throughout the region helped everyone grasp commonalities. Speakers including Valencia Robinson of AIDS Action in Mississippi and Sarah Young of the Mississippi ACLU spoke about advocacy opportunities for people with HIV. There was also a lot of time for people to discuss problems in their communities and brainstorm strategies for developing solutions.
“People from other states all had the same issues we have,” said James Bender, a field organizer for AAIM, who is HIV-positive and has attended every AAIM summit to date. “Transportation, housing, access to health care and stigma were problems we all shared.”
Hurting for housing
Access to housing for people with HIV and AIDS was a problem among all of the participants but particularly in Mississippi.
Jim Kilderry is from South Haven, a northern Mississippi town. Although Kilderry is HIV-positive and from Mississippi, because of where his county is situated, he receives AIDS services in Tennessee and serves on the Memphis-area Ryan White Planning Council. “Groups there are more of a passive, non-activist, non-advocacy entity,” he said.
Kilderry left the summit charged with a mission: look into private funding for housing for poor people living with HIV/AIDS. “Housing issues are important. People need a standard of living they can live with,” he said.
“People at the summit from Tennessee and Georgia said they can appreciate what they have compared to what’s in Mississippi,” Robinson said. “People in Georgia and Tennessee have supportive housing. They have a whole program called Atlanta Harm Reduction. Here it’s only abstinence-only housing.”
More from Mississippi
Robinson had been working with the Mississippi Department of Health since 2007 to implement low-threshold long term housing for people living with AIDS, putting to work unused federal dollars. But those “conversations have ceased” for the moment, Robinson said. “The State said the community had to come up with criteria for the housing program. Everything we gave to them wasn’t good enough or wasn’t enough. But we’re still having a conversation. We’re going to bring supportive housing back up to the forefront.”
The past year has been a landmark year for AAIM. Members of the group marched from Jackson to Oxford, Mississippi and spearheaded the demand that presidential candidates talk about HIV/AIDS. In addition, members successfully lobbied the Mississippi legislature to implement the state’s first pilot program for comprehensive sex education and also got a bill killed that would force people who transit HIV to register as sex offenders.
Posted on April 2, 2009 at 6:19 pm