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David Duran, Bay Area Reporter: AIDS group brings awareness to Occupy SF

AIDS group brings awareness to Occupy SF
by David Duran, November 17, 2011

AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco partnered with St. James Infirmary and Homonomixxx on Veterans Day to commemorate the decade-long ARC/AIDS Vigil of 1985-1995 as well as to bring awareness of the housing crisis for people living with HIV/AIDS, queer youth, and transgender people to the campers at Occupy SF.

The groups’ mission was to bring together others who were also concerned about their issues and to possibly discuss further actions to take. Along with planning for future events, they provided HIV testing, needle exchange, and a brown bag lunch for those who attended.

Brian Basinger, director of AHA/SF, came up with the idea of bringing people together to react to what he described as, “the city and government not taking care of our community.” According to Basinger, San Francisco has the highest rate of homeless folks living with HIV/AIDS.

“It’s a crime,” he told the Bay Area Reporter .

Organizers hope to meet with Mayor Ed Lee and challenge him to end homelessness for PWAs, sex workers, and queer youth within four years, Basinger said.

Unfortunately, spreading the word and assembling the masses has proved difficult. Friday’s turnout was less than expected but Basinger was confident that his message was still heard. The Occupy SF encampment has a very detailed website with daily schedules and activities. But it appears as if the website may be more of a suggested schedule because Friday was a day where most stayed in their tents. There was live music and performances, but the people enjoying the shows were mostly tourists or locals passing by on their way to sightsee or work.

Basinger also said that he specifically wanted the ARC Vigil commemoration to take place near the Occupy SF encampment.

“Queer San Francisco has been looking for a way to get involved and express themselves with the Occupy movement,” said Basinger. He felt this was the perfect opportunity to put the queer spin on what is needed.

Basinger said that housing for homeless people in San Francisco comes second to medical. He feels housing should come first, followed by all the other support services. Housing for people living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco is currently delivered via the Department of Public Health. A person seeking a roof over their head would first have to register as a client of one of the city clinics before being considered for housing.

He feels this is detrimental to his clients because some don’t want to seek medical attention or register with clinics first.

“We want to build on what was started and furthermore implement a true vision of housing first in San Francisco,” he said.

The AIDS Housing Alliance works to protect the housing people already have, provides resources to secure new housing, and promotes public policy to expand opportunity for all, Basinger said.

The integrated service model combines affordable housing referrals, emergency financial assistance with back rent and move-in deposit assistance, rent subsidies, tenants rights counseling and landlord mediation, a legal services collaborative, and financial literacy education.

Additionally, the organization’s Simply Sandwiches program distributes 10,000 free organic, vegetarian meals annually. And it operates AHA Cafe, a job training and employment program for people with HIV/AIDS located on campus at UC Hastings College of Law.

Friday’s gathering comes following a decision in June by the Board of Supervisors to unanimously pass a resolution authorizing the creation and placement of a plaque in United Nations Plaza commemorating what became known as the ARC/AIDS Vigil. People living with HIV and AIDS and their allies camped out in the public plaza continuously from 1985 through 1995 to demand the federal government recognize and provide research funding for HIV/AIDS.

Basinger has been tasked with coming up with the idea for the design of the memorial as well as raising the funds to do so.

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