Feature story

Housing Works to improve the lives of people living with HIV in the United States

28 October 2011

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé with Housing Works client Matilda
Credit: Housing Works

In 2009 there were an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV across the United States of America. In many cities across the United States large numbers of people living with HIV are also homeless. In New York one organization is working hard to address the twin crisis of HIV and homelessness.

Housing Works has been providing high quality services for homeless men, women and children living with HIV in and around New York City since 1990. The organization offers homeless people living with HIV essential services such as housing, medical, dental and mental health care, meals, job training, drug treatment and HIV prevention and treatment services. It is currently providing support to more than 20 000 homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV.

The Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé visited one of the centres run by Housing Works which provides HIV testing, counselling and treatment services in the heart of New York.

“HIV can affect people who are the most difficult to reach with HIV services,” said Mr Sidibé. “This project is an example of how an integrated approach to social welfare improves the lives of vulnerable people by providing them with hope and restoring their dignity.” 

The centre, called Cylar House, pairs a medical clinic and adult day centre with a residential tower comprising of 36 apartments. In the same building Housing Works also run a food services business and a job training centre to help people living with HIV who are unemployed learn skills to return to work.

“Before I came to Cylar House I was homeless, using drugs, not taking HIV medication or taking care of my health,” said Matilda Echevarria, a 60-year-old resident. “Housing Works saved my life. Having my own place allows me to keep up with my medical and mental health appointments, to take my HIV medicines every day, and to feel good about myself.”

This project is an example of how an integrated approach to social welfare improves the lives of vulnerable people by providing them with hope and restoring their dignity

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé

Housing Works’ pioneering job training programme at Cylar House teaches basic employment skills and guarantees graduates paid employment at Housing Works once students finish their studies. Nearly one third of Housing Works employees are graduates of the job-training program.

Anthony E.S. Jones, a former homeless person who was addicted to drugs is now clean and sober. He graduated from the job training program and is now employed as a Community Outreach Worker/Intake Coordinator for Housing Works. He explained how important a safe roof over his head was to his road to recovery, “Housing is a gateway to maintaining one’s overall health,” he said.  Yvette Torres, Executive Director of Keith D. Cylar House added, “Having stable housing allows people to be able to focus on their health and well-being, not having to be pre-occupied with where they will sleep at night and whether they will be safe.”

The Cylar House HIV housing and treatment project has been replicated in several cities across the United States.

At the end of the visit a memorial ceremony was held to pay tribute to leading AIDS and Tuberculosis activist Winstone Zulu, who passed away earlier this month. Mr Zulu had stayed at the centre for several months after he became ill during a meeting he was attending at the United Nations. 

“UNAIDS owes a debt of gratitude to Housing Works for opening its arms, it’s heart, it’s services and it’s healing community to Winstone in his time of need,” said Mr Sidibé. “The world also owes thanks to Winstone for bringing a face to the twin crises of HIV and TB. We need more heroes like Winstone Zulu and more organizations like Housing Works.”