Homelessness and housing insecurity are a citywide problem, but the burdens fall particularly hard on residents diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, who are among SF’s most vulnerable populations.
Last week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that the city’s latest budget includes $1 million in rent subsidies for HIV/AIDS patients, to be administered through the non-profit Q Foundation, an AIDS housing non-profit established in 2003.
While this is far from the first such program in San Francisco, it’s the first new HIV patient-specific subsidy for the city in 12 years.
The program will provide extra cash for rent costs—the exact sum yet to be determined—to “approximately 120” residents over the next year.
“To qualify for the program, [HIV positive] people must be either currently housed and paying more than 70 percent of their income toward rent, or offered below-market rate housing in San Francisco but in need of a subsidy,” says the Mayor’s office.
According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, new diagnoses of HIV have been on the decline in San Francisco almost every year for the past ten years, from 523 in 2008 down to 221 in 2017. In 2018 the number slipped below 200.
The reason HIV rates are tied into the conversation with housing—and the reason even people without HIV in their lives have an incentive to pay attention to patients’ housing status—is because research shows that housing stability is an effective tool for both preventing new cases and keeping those already living with the disease healthier.
The federal Department of Health & Human Services’ HIV site explains that “individuals with HIV who are homeless or lack stable housing [...] are more likely to delay HIV care and less likely to access care consistently or to adhere to their HIV treatment.”
Both housing discrimination against those with the diagnosis and the cost of medical treatment make it more likely that those living with HIV will end up at increased risk for homelessness—and homelessness in turn increases the risk of both HIV infection and related health problems.
In September, SF’s annual HIV epidemiology report found that “late diagnoses” (a term that refers to how much the virus has proliferated, as opposed to a set chronological period of time) were more common among homeless people in the city, as was lack of access to effective treatment.
Previously, the Q Foundation said that it was not accepting any new applicants for subsidies and that it was counting on this new award from the city to expand its housing assistance program. The non-profit originally anticipated potential release of the funds in October.