Health News

Grant delay could leave Mississippi HIV/AIDS patients homeless

Nine Coast households with a family member suffering from HIV/AIDS could find themselves homeless next month after a federal housing grant was delayed -- again -- and sluggish fundraising rendered a local agency unable to make up the shortfall.

Though the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force is aggressively seeking funding sources, it is also looking for ways to cut its expenses so other programs don't suffer.

Among its other services, the AIDS Task Force administers a Supportive Housing Program grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development worth about $103,000 a year.

It helps house nine families. And for those nine families, the money is crucial, Board President Allen Jenkins said.

Seven have no independent source of income. Many HIV/AIDS patients pay large amounts for medications and many have additional medical issues stemming from their AIDS diagnoses.

"If they don't have these services, they will certainly be homeless," Jenkins said. "Their compounded diagnoses and issues prevent them from having employment."

The renewed grant was supposed to pick up March 1. But it has been delayed nationally.

Jenkins is confident the grant will eventually be renewed, but the agency doesn't have the resources to house those nine families for what could be up to three months.

The grant was delayed last year as well but the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force picked up the $30,000 tab in the interim. This year, the money just isn't there.

"This year, we don't have enough to cover the gap period," Jenkins said. "Because of the sluggish economy, fundraising is tough for us and for a lot of nonprofits."

That economy is affecting the Task Force, which serves 800 people in Mississippi's six southern counties, in other ways as well.

There is less food in its food bank, which is open to anyone. It's had to reduce the amount of food it regularly distributes.

Leaders with the Task Force also have shut down the administrative portion of the agency's building to reduce utility costs. They are operating out of an office in the residential half, and services will still be offered but the hours of operation have been cut.

"We're just trying to cut overhead because right now we don't know when the funding is going to be released," Jenkins said.

Officials with the Task Force are working with other agencies that may be able to assume expenses for its clients for the next few months. They've sent letters to affected families and plan to meet with them.

But if that doesn't work, those nine families will have to find rent money or alternate housing by April 1.

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