Clare Housing

ANITA FINALLY FOUND A PLACE TO LIVE WHERE STIGMA WOULDN’T HOLD HER BACK — CLARE HOUSING.

Interview by Epstein, Writer & Clare Housing Resident

I’d like you to meet Anita, a great-grandmother living with HIV. Anita has struggled with a lot in her life. She’s dealt with racism. She’s dealt with addiction, and she’s been living with HIV for many years. Struggling with these things has been hard, but for Anita, it is the stigma that she’s faced that’s been the hardest.

Anita grew up in the projects of Chicago. “Streetlife” started for her the first time she used crack cocaine. At her lowest point, she found herself at her dealer’s place getting a fix five times a week. Anita got close to the people there and soon found herself a go-between, making drops for her dealer.

ANITA WAS TOO ASHAMED TO GET HELP. HELP FOUND HER AFTER SHE FOUND HERSELF AT THE WRONG END OF A KNIFE.

She wanted to get into treatment, but the stigma of being labeled for life as an addict weighed on her. Anita was too ashamed to seek help. Help found her, but only after a life and death experience. A delivery went south, and Anita found herself on the wrong end of a knife wielded by her would-be customer. No injuries occurred, but Anita was sent to in-person treatment for her chemical dependency.

At the treatment facility, Anita turned her life around. But the strength she found was largely despite the reception she had from others. Two types of prejudice threatened to derail her work towards sobriety — racism, and HIV stigma. Anita’s roommate, a white woman, made it very clear that she did not like being housed with a black woman. The staff did their best to curtail her roommate’s negative behavior, but the woman’s attitude continued to be hostile.

ANITA WAS TURNING HER LIFE AROUND, BUT THAT’S WHEN SHE WAS PUBLICLY “OUTED” AS LIVING WITH HIV.

Her roommate found out about Anita’s HIV status. She decided to use it as a weapon against her. The roommate “outed” Anita to the people at the facility, and Anita soon found that she was unwelcome with people who had welcomed her company before. Stigma had reared its ugly head again. Heartbroken, Anita left after 28 days. Thankfully, her time in treatment was enough, and Anita has lived a substance-free life since then.

Stigma, unfortunately, was not yet done with her. It was around this time that her HIV positive status was revealed to her family members, including her mother. That same sense of hostility at the treatment center suddenly invaded that space where we are meant to feel the safest — our family home.

INSTEAD OF SEEING ANITA, ALL HER MOTHER COULD SEE WAS HER HIV STATUS.

Her mother told her that HIV was “dirty”, and “morally impure”. For a time, Anita was not welcome at home, even to visit her sick father. Anita’s sisters intervened on her behalf, educating their mother about HIV. That education eventually saved their relationship and allowed Anita to be present in her mother’s life before she passed away recently.

Today Anita lives happily at one of our Clare Housing Care Homes. Here she has found a home where she’s accepted for all the wonderful dimensions that make her who she is. She no longer has to worry about being subjected to racist comments, or the stigma of being ostracized for her HIV status, or for her past struggles with chemical dependency.

ANITA FINALLY FOUND A PLACE TO LIVE WHERE STIGMA WOULDN’T HOLD HER BACK — CLARE HOUSING.

When asked what should be done to overcome the stigma within society and addiction treatment settings, without hesitation Anita replied, “Education! We need to redouble the efforts to continue to educate people about HIV and addiction. The only antidote to fear and ignorance-based stigma is education to erase that fear and ignorance.”

Looking back on her life, Anita likes to joke that she has a lot in common with Empire character Cookie Lyons, who’s fond of saying, “The streets aren’t for everybody. That is why they made sidewalks.” Although Anita’s life took a detour into the street, she’s happy to be safely on the sidewalk once again. So is her family, who are proud to say that they are blessed to have her in their lives.

We feel blessed to have her too, as a member of our Clare Housing community. Your support makes a safe, stigma-free home for Anita possible. Please make your donation today. Thank you!

WHO WE ARE & WHAT WE DO

Clare Housing is an innovative leader of supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS for the past three decades. For more than 30 years, we have housed over 700 very low-income people living with and affected by HIV. We provide more dedicated housing to people living with and affected by HIV than anyone else in the state of Minnesota. What we're doing is working. What we need to do is more of it.

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