This article is taken directly from the IHCDA May 2023 newsletter.
Arien Dillon, Housing Coordinator
Positive Resource Connection of Northeast Indiana (PRC) offers testing, preventative resources, and medical and non-medical case management to those living with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in 12 counties. Currently, PRC serves 400 people living with HIV, educates 8,000 more about prevention, and tests more than 1,500 for HIV annually. Those numbers are impressive considering the organization started in 1985 as a small group of volunteers committed to helping people in Fort Wayne who tested positive for HIV. While their mission is still “to prevent new cases of HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and STDs, and advance a compassionate and stigma-free community response,” their impact is much greater than that volunteer group probably ever imagined.
PRC’s initiatives have always been designed to foster an environment that is rooted in compassion, service, and education. They have also always been committed to providing education about HIV and AIDS to encourage individuals to seek preventative services or healthcare to mitigate negative health outcomes. But PRC’s work doesn’t stop there. Just ask their Housing Coordinator, Arien Dillon. She’s been with PRC for 10 years and recalls, when the job was posted, “I couldn’t get my application in any faster.” A decade later, she still feels passionate because “we are the only agency in Northeast Indiana to offer HIV and AIDS services and prevention.”
As the Housing Coordinator, she is tasked with helping those who are living with HIV and experiencing or at risk of homelessness. That’s a tall order, and she explains, “The issues for our clients (could be everything from) poor rental history, available affordable housing, mental health and substance abuse issues, and even a criminal background.” Despite these challenges, she clearly loves the work and says, “It’s a great feeling waking up every day knowing I can make a difference every day.” Arien is able to use the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) grant because it offers federal funding to clients in three areas, Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Short-Term Assistance for Rent, Mortgage, and Utilities (STRMU), and Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA). According to Arien, the best part is “Our program does not run on a waiting list and is designed to maintain and secure stable housing for our active clients in Northeast Indiana.” She points out this is key because “clients who are HIV positive and homeless experience a greater challenge with being medically compliant. A client who is housed is proven to be more medically compliant, which, in turn, means that they are more likely to be or become undetectable, which reduces the infection rate.”
Clients often come to PRC experiencing incredibly desperate circumstances. Arien and her team work together to determine how they can transform their client’s struggles into success. Once such client is a gentleman who “switched medications for his HIV, which caused a lot of mental health issues and [unstable] income. He also experienced a breakup and was in danger of losing his housing.” Arien and her team were able to utilize the HOPWA grant until he was medically stable. Arien proudly shared, “He did not lose his housing and is now working again. He is currently moving to our TBRA program to ensure that stabilization is long term and not temporary.”
While PRC is steadfast in their commitment to raising awareness around HIV and AIDS, they also offer programs to support those who are living with Hepatitis C. This month, they are hosting a fundraiser for their Gregory L. Manifold Food Pantry called Bags of Prevention. Donors pick up an empty bag (or provide their own) and fill it with food, clothing, and toiletries. The donations are distributed to “high-risk individuals” by the Street Outreach team. Those who participate are encouraged to think of themselves as “Prevention Ambassadors.”
This campaign is just another way PRC is working to raise awareness and make AIDS/HIV, Hepatitis C, and STIs feel less taboo. Arien’s greatest hope is that “more people would take the time to educate themselves and get tested. I wish the stigma around HIV and AIDS was a thing of the past and we approached it as we do diabetes and any other health concern.”