GMHC is significantly expanding its capacity to provide civil legal services to families affected by HIV, thanks to a major new legal services grant from the New York State AIDS Institute.
The grant, for $288,300 per year for four years, will allow GMHC to hire an additional lawyer with expertise in family law, a paralegal, and an administrative assistant to expand its Legal Services Department, which currently has two lawyers and a paralegal handling civil legal needs for GMHC clients.
The unique aspect of the AIDS Institute grant is that it promotes the stabilization of an entire family affected by HIV. “This grant helps us support the family, not just the person,” said GMHC’s Chief Program Officer Lynnette Ford.
Families affected by HIV need legal help with a myriad of issues, such as overcoming barriers to care and services and accessing benefits and entitlements. Assistance in gaining or maintaining benefits and entitlements is an area crucial to the stabilization of the family unit, and Ford said it is a major need for both individuals and families affected by HIV.
Families affected by HIV also often need help with guardianships and adoption matters to prepare for the future care and custody of minor children, as well as will preparation, including living wills and health care proxies.
“This grant allows us to expand our services for individuals living with HIV and HIV-affected families, by expanding legal staffing to meet the need,” Ford said.
One very beneficial aspect of the grant is that it allows GMHC to connect HIV-affected families or individuals that are seeking legal aid with mental health services as well, when needed, she added.
For legal issues, GMHC has often had to refer families affected by HIV to other community partners focused on legal aid, because it did not have enough capacity, Ford explained. Unlike legal aid organizations, GMHC can provide wraparound services that support the stabilization of the entire family unit affected by HIV.
“There is a very high need for legal services for this population,” Ford said, adding that legal aid is one of the most-requested services at GMHC, besides food and nutrition.
Other legal issues for families affected by HIV include landlord-tenant disputes, consumer finance problems and discrimination. Assistance with name changes for transgender people can also be an issue.