LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Racial Disparity in HIV Housing Persists
Although the African-American community has the highest rate of AIDS, "only a small fraction of the millions in federal dollars earmarked for housing people with HIV in Los Angeles County has been used to support residential facilities" in the area's predominantly black neighborhoods, the Los Angeles Times reports. From June 1993 to June 1999, the county has received nearly $54 million from the federal government to provide housing services for people with HIV/AIDS. Of that money, $10 million covered long term subsidies and 30-day emergency vouchers, and $16 million was used to create and support AIDS housing. However, the city housing department has been accused of letting $17 million go unused for years, before allocating it to subsidize rent payments earlier this year. Historically, most of the funding has gone to housing facilities serving predominately gay white males in West Hollywood, Hollywood, Santa Monica and Silver Lake. In those areas, there are 25 housing facilities, containing 82% of the 561 residential beds for people with HIV/AIDS. In largely black South Los Angeles, only 25 beds at the Palms housing facility and two beds at the Parent of Watts emergency shelter offer a place for people with HIV/AIDS. Of the 12 new housing facilities being developed in the county, 11 will be located in the Hollywood and downtown areas. Some officials believe that the housing disparity is just a reflection of the "larger inequity in the distribution of AIDS funding and decision-making power." County officials indicate that a variety of complex issues factor into the discrepancy, including "limited federal funds and the lingering belief that many who were infected did not want to seek help in their own neighborhoods." Fred Eggen, the city's AIDS services coordinator, said, "Facilities were built in the areas where the cases were, and so those facilities still exist and we want them to exist." Charles Henry, director of the LA County Office of AIDS Programs and Policy, added, "We're still dealing with having developed a set of prevention interventions and in some ways, a health care system that was responsive to the needs of gay white men. We recognize that those don't translate into (other) communities ... We have a lot more work to do in Los Angeles."
No Housing, No Treatment
In the absence of housing facilities, access to drug treatments and medical breakthroughs "are failing to reach the epidemic's fastest-growing group -- black men and women in the urban core." African Americans comprised 18% of county residents with AIDS in 1991, compared to 26% in 1997. Blacks account for only 9% of the population. During that same period, the proportion of white county residents fell from 47% in 1991 to 32% in 1997. Today, city statistics indicate that the AIDS rate among the county's African American population is 347 per 100,000 residents, compared to 192 per 100,000 white residents. And some are concerned that these estimates are too low. Dr. Wilbert Jordan, of the Oasis Clinic in Watts, is worried that the lack of services for the black community will have serious repercussions. He said, "Where are they going to go? They have no resources. Their friends and families have no resources" (Stewart, Los Angeles Times, 9/26).
'Oasis' for the Poor
Today's Los Angeles Times profiled the Palms, which since 1997 has served as "one small model of a rare kind of AIDS facility," one that is designed specifically to serve minority men in their own communities. Palms owners Kevin Pickett and Cora King converted their motel into a 25-bed housing facility after their motel customers "gave them a close-up view of homelessness, of drug use, of the sickness caused by HIV and AIDS." Armed with the support of Los Angeles City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, attorney Johnnie Cochran and basketball star Magic Johnson, Pickett and King have successfully transformed their motel into an HIV housing facility staffed with nurse assistants, a social worker, substance abuse counselors and a recreation director. The staff helps residents adhere to complicated drug regimens and keep track of doctors appointments. Despite "conventional wisdom" among service providers who thought Latinos and African Americans infected with HIV "did not want to live among their own ethnic groups," many advocates point to the waiting list at the Palms -- in existence since the facility's inception -- as evidence that housing facilities can play a major role in "keeping people alive in the epidemic's new context of urban poverty." Pickett said, "People in this community want services just like anybody else." The Los Angeles Times reports that men arrive at the Palms "from the streets and prisons where they were infected" with the goal of stabilizing their health by getting them off the streets.
Waking Up the Hill
Members of Congress are beginning to address the disparity in facilities and funding for the hardest hit minority communities. Fred Karnas, deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said, "We all are aware that the face of the epidemic is changing." However, he indicates that the "service infrastructure that evolved through the epidemic's early phases may be slow to change." U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D- CA) said, "The gay white community has done so well. They have been extraordinary in their prevention and outreach. They're moving right along and we can do it, too." In addition to the Congressional Black Caucus' successful bid for extra funding for prevention programs in African-American communities, the communities themselves are mobilizing against the epidemic. African-American ministers in Los Angeles this spring established a collaborative effort to promote prevention programs in black churches and a 60-member women's coalition has been a canvassing malls and distributing information in black and Latino communities. "If you create something called a gay center, the only people who are going to come are people who identify as gay," said Cleo Manago, who heads the AMASSI Center, a cultural agency in Inglewood. "A lot of people in the black community who are bisexual or men who have sex with men don't identify with the whole gay culture," he said. "There's a lot of people out here working to change things," Pickett said, adding, "It may be a tough battle, but it's not lost yet. You can't give up. You can't walk away" (Stewart, Los Angeles Times, 9/27).