HIV has been with us for a long time now. For those of us who lived through the beginning and are still here, we’ve watched as the disease has changed from a death sentence to something that is manageable throughout a lifetime as long as an HIV-negative individual could potentially live.
Over the years, the population make-up of those infected with HIV has seemingly changed.
We’re choosing to use the word seemingly here for a reason: while the impact of HIV evolved, so did technology and the world around us.
Did that lack of technology have an impact on the way the world viewed and responded to HIV and AIDS at the time, as opposed to today?
Initially, HIV was an infection that appeared to impact gay white men in larger cities. As time wore on, however, clients showing up at organizations that offered assistance for people living with AIDS and HIV changed. Fewer caucasians, more women, more people of color and more trans folk.
But were men and women of color and trans individuals just less visible in the 1980s and 1990s because of culture and community? Were the men forced to remain closeted about their sexuality, while both the men and women ran under the radar because of a greater stigma related to HIV from their communities? Did the trans community of that time slip through the cracks because so few actively sought visibility, and were all too often rejected by society at large when they did?
With a lack of internet access and social media, finding a community of acceptance and comfort would have been a far greater challenge.
The question has arisen among HIV healthcare providers and many long-term HIV survivors in recent years: were we all initially impacted by HIV as it evolved at the same rate? Were white gay men more visible because they had a larger community of support that led to a greater likelihood of being out about their sexuality and HIV status, while trans folk and BIPOC individuals were essentially blocked from seeking help?
Whatever the case may be, communities seeking service from HIV-related help and health organizations have definitely seen change.
Shannon Farrar has served as the executive director of Carolinas Care Partnership (CCP) since 2016, although she has been with the organization in some form or fashion since 2006.
“I would say that 85 percent of folks getting tested and seeking assistance here are people in the Trans and BIPOC communities,” Farrar confirms.
“Something else important we have learned is that individuals living in poverty, and those who experienced adverse childhood events, are more prone to HIV infection than those who have had a different life experience.”
That information is key. Without access to 21st century technology, such points of knowledge would be unavailable. As a result, the capability to target communities where need is the greatest becomes readily available.
Carolinas CARE Partnership was initially established in 1990. At the time it was known as the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium, which operated under the umbrella of Foundation for the Carolinas and the United Way of Central Carolinas.
Initially the organization was the administrator of the federal Ryan White CARE Act and the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) programs that provided care, treatment and housing services in 10 counties across both Carolinas.
In 2010, the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium changed its name to Carolinas CARE Partnership in an effort to more accurately define their efforts to work with other organizations in the continuing fight against HIV.
As of 2021, CCP redefined their mission to clarify a focus on access to housing and healthcare for those most at need; and provide a close-up examination of how those elements can lead to injustice, especially for people of color.
Advancements in Technology and Services
One of the many ways CCP provides access to HIV testing and healthcare is through their Mobile Care unit: a Nissan van that routinely travels through such North Carolina counties as Mecklenburg, Gaston, Lincoln, Cabarrus, Iredell, Rowan, and Union. In South Carolina they offer testing and services in Chester, Lancaster and York County.
“We knew it was important to be mobile,” Farrar explains. “In smaller towns, communities and rural areas, access to testing is not always readily available.
“At first we leased the van with CDC funds,” Farrar recalls. “Eventually we were able to purchase it with money from the Elizabeth Taylor foundation. Then we added additional lighting and air conditioning.”
In addition to the expanded state travel, CCP frequently offers testing through their mobile unit at local Pride events and by pre-arrangements in communities that have either requested their presence or shown a need.
In more recent years, CCP’s efforts have expanded even further. As the negative impact of the previous government administration and the COVID pandemic left many people financially destitute and without a place to live, homeless camps have begun to crop up around major cities across the country. Charlotte and the Mecklenburg region is no different.
“I don’t know exactly how many homeless camps there are here,” says Farrar, “but we do visit two to three to offer testing. We usually go with a police officer, only because it is someone they are familiar with, meaning the police officer, and they’re much more willing to talk with us if someone they already know is with us.”
When it comes to housing possibilities through CCP, those currently in need will face a greater challenge than might have been expected prior to the COVID pandemic. Regardless, CCP continues to work hard to meet the needs of the economically challenged HIV community by providing scattered site housing.
“Funding comes from HUD (Housing and Urban Development), which is provided to HOPWA and the City of Charlotte. Then it comes to us. Clients pay 30 percent of their monthly rental fee and we cover the rest.
“Currently we have 101 clients,” Farrar offers. “But we have a waiting list of 110.”
Farrar confirms the difficulty in finding available housing now, as opposed to availability during the pre-pandemic era, indicating landlords often want more money, and the potential lure of financial gain through an effort like a successful Air B&B bringing in more income is appealing.
“Still, we’ve been lucky,” she insists. “We’ve been able to achieve more fundraising than expected and I work with some amazing people.”
Earlier this year Transcend Charlotte and CCP announced they had merged in an effort to better serve the LGBTQ communities of Charlotte.
In an interview carried by Qnotes in June, Transcend’s Executive Director Bethany Corrigan described the new developments: Transcend will be able to expand their expertise in gender equity, trans-focused programming, peer support groups, case management and community education, while CCP provides organizational, administrative and fundraising support.
“[Our] case management helps folks with income, Bill pay support and housing. Because of our [merger] with Carolinas Care Partnership, the housing resources have been expanded, and we can offer on the spot HIV testing.”
Both Farrar and Corrigan share the belief that combining pre-existing organizations geared towards specific needs well ultimately lead to the best ways of serving the LGBTQ community.
With that outlook, the potential for even greater future expansion seems limitless.