It is easy to forget that HIV/AIDS is an ongoing epidemic – not only around the world – but right in our own backyard. As March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I thought this would be a good time to look at how this epidemic relates to homelessness.
In the beginning of the epidemic, women frequently stepped forward to help friends, neighbors and family members struggling with severe acute illness and social isolation. Since then, better treatment has made it possible to cope physically with HIV/AIDS as a chronic health condition. Also since that time, women – particularly women of color – have had to face their own HIV/AIDS diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS diagnoses now affect nearly 280,000 women in the United States.
What does this have to do with homelessness?
With the costs of treatment as high as ever, HIV/AIDS still makes people poor, often to the point where they lose their homes. Since women tend generally to have lower incomes, those women who face HIV/AIDS as a fact of life may experience homelessness at higher rates, and for longer periods. According to a recent brief from the National AIDS Housing Coalition, homelessness and HIV/AIDS are closely intertwined:
- People who are experiencing homelessness have rates of infection that are almost 16 times higher than people with housing stability.
- At least half of people living with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness or housing instability.
As with all chronic health impairments, having HIV/AIDS makes every day a challenge. Permanent supportive housing can improve housing stability, which in turn offers people with HIV/AIDS a secure place to get the health care and other supports they need. Housing assistance like Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) and treatment programs like the Ryan White CARE Act make it more likely that appropriate services will pair up with housing solutions. These are not programs exclusively for women; however, they do enable comprehensive approaches when women with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness as a complication.