HealthPoliticsSex & Gender

hiv+ black lgbt seniors and the issues of housing in nyc

December 1, 2018
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George Phipps is estranged from the family he said do not know he is gay and living with HIV. But, as an aging member of the New York City population, he found comfort living in a building where there are others like him, with the medical services he needs to enjoy a healthy life.

“They think I am dead […] I came out in my 50s in here. It took me that long to come out. It was one of my best friends here who helped me come out. Cause he’d been through the same thing I’d been through. I’m thinking, growing up, nobody had ever been through it […] I had never been around nobody [sic] who had been through that.” said Phipps, a resident at the Keith D. Cylar House Residence & Health Center, a service of Housing Works — a New York City nonprofit that provides short-term housing for people living with HIV.

Phipps is one of over 125,000 people living with HIV in the city. Of that number, 23 percent are over the age of 60. He is still looking for a place to call his permanent home. The search might be over soon.

New York City will become home to the nation’s largest LGBT-friendly affordable housing development for seniors, come June 2019. Ingersoll Senior Residences, located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, will provide 145 units of affordable senior housing that will be available to the city’s aging LGBT population. SAGE, a nonprofit that advocates for policy that address the needs of LGBT elders nationwide, is spearheading the project.

Lynn Faria, SAGE’s chief officer of external affairs said this effort is in response to the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“For older LGBT people, who face a higher rate of poverty than their heterosexual counterparts, affordable housing is vital…this is on top of the fact that LGBT older people also face discrimination,” she said. A 2014 study found that of those surveyed, 48% of same-sex older couples seeking housing in senior facilities experienced some level of discrimination resulting in higher application costs and rental rates.

Though the city is ranked as the 11th best city in the country for successful aging, no public residence targeted to LGBT seniors exists here. As New York’s elderly population continues to increase, those who identify as LGBT among the aging want housing that features on-site health services, and like Phipps, care for those living with HIV.

A March 2018 report by AARP, the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to healthy livelihoods for the elderly in the United States — found that nearly three quarters of LGBT seniors surveyed indicated that they had at least one serious health condition. As many as 91 percent are interested in LGBT-friendly housing developments with in-house support for older adults.

“People who are stably housed, they have better health outcomes,” said Steve Hemraj, former chair of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) advisory board. “If they have a place to live, they keep their doctors’ appointments, they can store their medication, they’re comfortable, they live happier lives.”

On its ground floor, the facility will house a SAGE Center — a service offering low-cost meals, special assistance for veterans, and health and wellness services for its residents. For those living with HIV, the SAGEPositive program will provide support groups and specialized case management.

Inadequate housing may also contribute to increased risk of death. A study conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in collaboration with city and state health agencies reported that it can also be “associated with unsuppressed viral load and reduced CD4 count.”

Phipps has an undetectable viral load, which means he is unable to transmit HIV to someone else. A person living with HIV is considered to be undetectable when antiretroviral treatment has brought the level of virus in their body to such low levels that blood tests cannot detect it. He accomplished this feat while living at Housing Works because of steady treatment.

He was diagnosed with AIDS in 2002.

“As an AIDS patient, he’s doing very well with controlling his viral load. Like a diabetic patient, when you’re clinically diagnosed with diabetes but your A1C level is controlled within the normal range, you’re still diagnosed with diabetes. In this case, he is still diagnosed with AIDS, but his viral load is suppressed

– which then means he can live a healthy life,” Hemraj said, who also works as director of community partnerships and adult day healthcare operations at Brightpoint Health in Brooklyn.

He is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and benefits from the HASA program administered by the city’s Human Resources Administration. Through that program, he, like many others living with HIV, are able to receive assistance with rental costs, transportation and other necessities. The city will pay 70 percent of rental costs, leaving the person to cover the remaining 30 percent.

The building will be opened in time for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

“LGBT elders paved the way – beginning 50 years ago at the Stonewall Inn and they’ve continued to break paths for our community in the years since then,” Faria said. “Today, so many of us enjoy more acceptance and rights because of their fight…the fact that there will now be a place in New York City, the home of the birth of the LGBT movement, for these elders to live their best lives, is life changing on many levels.”

On settling in a new home, Phipps is excited at the prospects.

“When I move, the first thing I’m doing is cooking a turkey … I’m gonna cook and tell y’all to come over and eat,” he said. “My blood family won’t deal with me … my new family? I know they’re gonna be there for me.”