With the help of a $383,000 grant, Pulaski County officials hope to expand access to housing for people with AIDS and HIV.
Through three different types of housing assistance, the award will stabilize home environments, which are key to better health outcomes, said Pulaski County Community Services Director Fredrick Love.
"If you're struggling ... with paying your mortgage and paying for your medicine, this grant can assist you," said Love, who is also a state legislator. "The basic premise of this grant is to ensure that people are being brought into care."
The grant was awarded by a City of Little Rock department and is funded through Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, a $300 million-plus program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Similar grants have been awarded elsewhere in Arkansas; for example, the state Department of Health receives similar funding to serve counties outside of central Arkansas, a spokesman said.
But this is the first such grant to be administered by Pulaski County government.
Love said focusing on those affected by HIV and AIDS is one part of county-level efforts to create and streamline the "continuum of care" for people who are homeless, or who are are at risk of losing their housing.
"The more tools you have in your toolkit, the more you can address," he said.
The City of Little Rock Department of Housing and Neighborhood Programs didn't immediately return a call about the award Monday.
According to materials published by the nonprofit National AIDS Housing Coalition, people with HIV and AIDS who get housing assistance are better connected to medical care and are less likely to have coexisting infections such as hepatitis C or tuberculosis.
Under the county program, types of help will include short-term rent, mortgage and utility assistance, permanent housing placement services and tenant-based rental assistance, which makes up the gap between the rent on a property and what a tenant can pay.
People receiving assistance must comply with requirements, including being in treatment and meeting income qualifications. At least 30-40 people are estimated to benefit, Love said.
The Pulaski County Quorum Court must officially approve the creation of the position for a grant manager as well as the formal appropriation for the program in an upcoming vote.
As the program takes shape, Community Health Centers of Arkansas will serve as a partner, providing office space for the grant manager and connecting patients who are not receiving health care to providers.
LaShannon Spencer, the centers' chief executive officer, said the nonprofit was "actually excited" about the arrangement, which she thought would improve outreach and care coordination services combating HIV and AIDS.
"Housing and health, that's just a part of the social determinants of health. ... Ensuring that people have adequate living space [is] a part of that healing process," she said.
Pulaski County accounted for about 40% of the state's new HIV diagnoses and roughly the same percentage of new AIDS diagnoses in 2017, according to a health department surveillance report covering that year.
In February, health officials announced that Arkansas would join seven states and 48 counties to be targeted by a federal initiative working to end new HIV infections by 2030.
The majority of those states, selected for their high rural HIV burden, are in the South, which researchers say logs a large portion of the nation's new infections and AIDS-related deaths.
On a call with reporters last week, Dafina Ward, interim executive director of the Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern AIDS Coalition, called for a "collective strategy" in helping people with AIDS and HIV who live in the region's metropolitan areas.
Stigma and racism, she said, can inhibit their access to health care and other social services.
"We must draw national attention to this problem," she said. "It is not just a Southern challenge."
Metro on 08/20/2019