Rafael was diagnosed with HIV five years ago and found comfort among the people at AIDS Partnership Michigan.
“The case managers and staff have helped me get to medical appointments to get treatment, helped me get clothing and helped get my state identification so I could apply for other services,” Rafael, now 24, says. “As I run into other youth who are also infected I tell them about APM. Not only do they help you, but they care about you too!”
The Michigan Department of Community Health estimates there are 12,780 people living with HIV/AIDS in the Detroit metro area, the epicenter of the epidemic in Michigan. The Detroit metro area represents 69 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in Michigan; the city of Detroit alone represents 44 percent. Detroit leaders have declared the HIV epidemic in the area a “crisis” and an “emergency.”
Established in 1983 as Wellness Networks, AIDS Partnership Michigan is the oldest multi-service organization in the state. They provide a full range of HIV care and prevention services to those in the Detroit metro area affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS. Services include clinic-and community-based medical case management; early intervention services; psychosocial services; mental health care; outreach; HIV counseling; testing and referral; health education and culturally relevant programming to minorities, youth and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender variant and transgender communities, as well as other men who have sex with men.
The most recent grant from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS was awarded to AIDS Partnership Michigan to help support a population often underserved and overlooked: HIV-positive youth and young adults.
Many of those served by APM have been shunned by their families, ostracized by other youth and largely left to their own devices because of their HIV status, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression. The compounded traumas of HIV infection, homelessness and abandonment all too often leave these youth at high-risk for transmission of HIV infection. A significant portion experiences poverty and are at risk for incarceration, homelessness, substance use and untreated mental illness.
AIDS Partnership Michigan provides clients with clothing, hygiene products, food vouchers, bus passes and the purchase of state photo identification cards and/or copies of birth certificates – so necessary to allow these youth to access public entitlement programs and other services to put them on the path to a more stable future. Additionally, APM provides a coordinated system of support that has a tremendous impact on HIV-infected youth. This is most aptly demonstrated by APM’s 94 percent success rate in retaining youth in HIV care services, despite often challenging life situations.
Concurrently, APM is keenly aware of the impact of the present national, state and, in particular, local economy has had on HIV-positive youth. The State of Michigan continues to experience extremely challenging economic times, with a current statewide unemployment rate of 13 percent, and the city of Detroit reporting 17-20 percent unemployment.
Substantial numbers of HIV-positive youth find it difficult to obtain even part-time employment to meet basic needs and sustain stable housing, further complicating their ability to remain in medical care and access needed human services.
“Despite this,” says Hank Milbourne, associate executive director of prevention services, “at APM we celebrate each victory and grieve each loss. We hold hands. Until there is a proven cure for this disease, and until all those affected are properly cared for, we will never rest.”