During the holidays, home is a cherished idea as families gather with friends to celebrate. But having a home of one’s own is elusive for many of GMHC’s clients.
GMHC provides supportive housing year-round to people living with HIV/AIDS and families or youth in shelters, who otherwise would be homeless.
“Can you imagine being able to give clients these keys?” asked Jacquelin Diaz, GMHC’s managing director of operations. “After 25 years doing this work, I still cry when I give a client a key.”
But that is just where the story begins, Diaz said. “Once they become a client of GMHC, we become a team.”
We house 50 people living with HIV/AIDS in furnished apartments through the Housing Opportunities Program for People Living with AIDS (HOPWA). Our Rapid Rehousing Program houses another 31 families and youth living in Department of Housing Services (DHS) shelters. Clients have from one to two years to graduate to their own apartments.
Once housed, GMHC connects clients with case managers and support groups for health stabilization and independent living skills to help them become successful, self-sufficient renters.
For the HOPWA clients, that includes storing and taking medications properly, as Diaz says in our video. “The goal here is to be virally suppressed,” she says.
One client, Fernando Romero, who’s featured in the video, calls the HOPWA Program “a miracle.” After coming to New York from Peru, he was living on the streets and feeling sick when someone from a local church referred him to GMHC.
That same day, Romero says, he received the HIV medication he needed, and a week later, GMHC housing coordinator Daisy Guzman called with an apartment.
But, feeling dark one day from being so far away from his family, Romero called Guzman and told her he’d decided to end his life. She offered help, and he accepted.
Romero recovered. He says the HOPWA Program has given him “enormous stability” and the confidence that he can fend for himself.
HOPWA Program clients have a high graduation rate to independent living within two years, and some even become peer navigators for new participants, Diaz said.
“It’s just an amazing transformation,” she says in the video. “They come from a place where … they don’t know where they’re going to rest their head that night to having their own home and thinking about the future—actually thinking that they can have a future.”
GMHC started the HOPWA program five years ago, and then in January 2020, right before the pandemic hit, it launched the Rapid Rehousing Program with 31 apartments for families and youth living in DHS shelters.
“They were so worried about being in the shelter system at the height of the pandemic,” Diaz said. “We were so thrilled to get children out of shelters and into an apartment.”
The Rapid Rehousing Program clients also receive training from GMHC on becoming a successful renter—from job readiness, and education referrals to credit score repair.
Because of the GMHC housing team’s success in transitioning clients to their own apartments, HUD has just allocated funding for five additional units and awarded GMHC 15 emergency housing vouchers that open the door to permanent housing.
Long-term HIV Survivors
Diaz said there is now a “dire need” for a congregate housing facility for long-term HIV survivors who are aged 50 and over and are currently living on their own.
“They didn’t plan to be seniors living with HIV/AIDS,” said Diaz, adding that she receives at least 10 emails every week from long-term HIV survivors who can no longer manage living alone—or are losing their lease.
One man told Diaz he can no longer see very well and is afraid he’ll fall down the stairs from his fourth-floor walkup. “I didn’t expect to be alive at this age, and I don’t know what to do,” he emailed.
But because long-term survivors are not homeless, Diaz said, they don’t qualify for GMHC’s HOPWA and HUD programs. “All I can do is refer them—and every congregate housing facility in New York is usually booked with a waiting list,’ she said.
They can pay rent, but they need a place to go, Diaz said, so now GMHC is seeking funds to buy or build a congregate housing facility for long-term HIV survivors.