By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
More than a hundred people gathered in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's local field office on First Street NE yesterday in recognition of World AIDS Day and to protest a lack of affordable housing for District residents living with HIV and AIDS.
Protesters, chanting through bullhorns and circling tents set up to represent shelter for those with HIV and AIDS, tried to reach housing officials to discuss the 278 people with HIV and AIDS in the District who they say are on a waiting list to receive affordable housing.
"Housing is a life-or-death issue for people living with HIV and AIDS," said George Kerr, the co-chairman of DC Fights Back, a volunteer network that works to get the best possible treatment for those living with HIV and AIDS. "We've made it our number one priority this year to address this issue."
Kerr and two other protesters met with Belinda J. Fadlelmola, an operations specialist for HUD, who told them that a meeting would be held to address their concerns about affordable housing and how to get people off the waiting list.
"On World AIDS Day, we should be talking about how to help people, not people waiting to be helped," said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD.
Holiday Johnson, director of communications for the D.C. Department of Health, said that through HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS), more than 600 residents with HIV are getting housing assistance.
Larry Bryant, a member of DC Fights Back, said housing should be considered a part of medical treatment and not a luxury for those living with HIV and AIDS.
"People see [housing] as an extravagance, not a need," Bryant said. "Infection rates are much higher amongst those who are homeless. We want to have some visible and vocal leadership from the mayor on down to address these needs."