LifeWalk steps off Sunday in Lee Park

Nobles says that park will not be fenced this year but is worried about added cost and barrier affecting next year’s event

KICKING UP THEIR HEELS | The LifeWalk organizing committee gets ready for Sunday.

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

New requirements by the city of Dallas could affect proceed totals from this year’s AIDS Arms LifeWalk, and at least one more new requirement is expected to be added to the list next year, according to LifeWalk organizers.

The 21st annual LifeWalk steps off from Lee Park on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. for the 3.2-mile walk. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. Last year’s event raised $401,000 and this year’s goal is $500,000.

Although thousands of people are expected for the event, Lee Park will remain unfenced this year, even though the city has said such gatherings will require fencing in the future.

Officials with the Dallas Tavern Guild, which stages the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and the Festival in Lee Park each year as part of Dallas’ annual LGBT Pride celebration, decided to get ahead of the new requirement by fencing in Lee Park this year for the festival, although the city requirement had not yet gone into effect.

Tavern Guild officials also chose to charge a $5 admission fee to the festival this year to help offset expenses and raise extra funds that will be distributed to parade beneficiaries.

The admission fee raised the ire of some in the community, and attendance at the festival was down compared to last year. But Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said the drop was not significant, and noted that the admission fee brought in about $25,000 that will be divided among beneficiaries.

But AIDS Arms Executive Director Raeline Nobles said new city requirements have already had an impact on LifeWalk, and she is worried that the new fencing requirements could affect next year’s walk.

“There were a lot more expenses from the city this year,” she said. “It really hits the bottom line.”

The cost of fencing next year will add an additional, unwelcome expense. But Nobles said she isn’t going to worry about that until after this weekend’s event. Right now, her main concern is getting people out to participate in this year’s fundraiser.

“Anyone can participate in LifeWalk,” Nobles said. “You can walk alone or bring friends or join a team. We even have poop-out vans: In case you can’t walk the entire three-mile route, someone will pick you up and bring you back to the park to have a good time.”

She also invited people to just come to the park and cheer.

“We need cheerleaders at the start and finish and at the water stations,” Nobles said. “We have pompoms for anyone who wants to cheer the walkers on.”

Registration for LifeWalk is $40 for people and $10 for dogs participating in LifeBark. People get a T-shirt and dogs get a bandana to show their support for people with HIV.

AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of LifeWalk, but other organizations also receive funds from the event, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Legal Hospice of Texas, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus, Bryan’s House, Resource Center Dallas and the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.

Money raised goes toward programming rather than capital costs. The chorale uses funds for their HIV fund, including giving tickets to performances through the year to people with AIDS.

Nobles praised that effort, saying that socializing is an important holistic element in treating HIV.

The Women’s Chorus will present a program at AIDS Arms in March on National HIV Women’s Day. Those expenses, Nobles said, should be covered by the group’s LifeWalk proceeds.

Nobles said it would be tempting for AIDS Arms to use the money to finish paying off the agency’s new Trinity Health and Wellness Center in Oak Cliff. She said that the new facility cost more than $2 million, and AIDS Arms needs to raise just $35,000 more to pay off the facility.

Trinity Health and Wellness Center opened in September and will have its formal grand opening in two weeks.

But despite the temptation, AIDS Arms will instead use proceeds from LifeWalk to support programs for clients at Trinity as well as at AIDS Arms’ older clinic, Peabody Health Center in South Dallas.

AIDS Arms also uses the money to administer HIV tests to more than 3,500 people a year and for case management for more than 3,400 people.

LifeWalk began in 1990 as a fundraiser for Oak Lawn Community Services. When that agency closed, management of the event moved to AIDS Arms.

LifeWalk Co-chair Marvin Green noted that his Green Team will mark its 20th year of participation in LifeWalk. He said he put the team together for the first time in the second year of LifeWalk because he had already lost 20 friends to AIDS.

That first year, three team members raised $75. This year, the 32-member Green Team has collected about $22,000.

Co-chair Fred Harris said that there were quite a few new teams this year.

“We’re reaching out to new communities,” Harris said. “There’s new energy. We’re branching outside Oak Lawn.”

He said teams are using creative new ways to raise money and AIDS Arms has actively brought in new sponsors such as Chipotle.

“Stoli is coming with a first-ever LifeWalk drink,” Nobles said. Returning sponsor Caven Enterprises will serve beer and Ben E. Keith donated iced tea.

Harris said planning has gone well, and that “LifeWalk is a well-oiled machine.”

Harris said he has seen more use of social media this year than ever, reaching out to people outside the Metroplex.

“This year Facebook has become a very powerful tool,” he said, not just for fundraising but also for recruiting walkers.

Last year, about 3,500 people walked, and this year, “Registration is ahead of where we were this time last year,” Harris said.

Waterpalooza, another AIDS Arms event, was moved to Pride weekend this year, just two weeks prior to LifeWalk. Harris said they took advantage of that event to sign up teams and walkers and generate excitement for this weekend’s walk.

Among the new teams, Harris said, are the DFW Sisters.

“Their efforts have been tireless,” he said. “They raise the bar.”

Nobles said that WFAA Channel 8 morning anchor Ron Corning will serve as M.C. in Lee Park. Although he’s appeared at several events since arriving in Dallas, this is the first big public event the openly gay television host has emceed.

LifeWalk received the Human Rights Campaign family-friendly designation, and Nobles said there will be bounce houses, clowns and face-painting for children.

Harris said the event is pet-friendly as well, “because pets are our family.”

There will be games and puppy pools for dogs as well as doggie adoptions, Nobles said.

She said the day would be a lot of fun but asked people to participate because the need is greater than ever.

“With the growth in the number of newly-infected people in Dallas County who need help in this economy, we’re seeing people who never would ask but must,” she said.

Next year, Nobles said, she would like to see LifeWalk return to Oak Lawn, but new city regulations for events may change those plans. Among the events changing plans this year because of the city involved Lone Star Ride.

Last year, Lone Star Riders participated in LifeWalk on bike. This year, city regulations banned bikes from walks so LSR riders who participate will have to walk.

Green was thinking about bigger plans for future LifeWalks. Other cities that raise more money stage longer walks. He said he’d love to use the new Downtown Deck Park that should be completed next year and dreamed of seeing LifeWalkers crossing the new suspension bridge that should be open in March 2012.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

HUD grants to help with housing for those with AIDS

President Barack Obama

HOPWA program will administer $9.1 million in competitive grants to develop, improve housing options

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday, May 23 announced up to $9.1 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with low-incomes living with HIV/AIDS.

The competitive grants, offered through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program, are intended for states and local communities to create more integrated strategies and partnerships between housing programs and other health and human services.

David Vos, director of HUD’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing, said in a statement on the HUD website that the partnerships will help show “how to take holistic approaches to serving some of the nation’s most vulnerable, persons living with chronic health challenges and risks of homelessness.”

At the end of the three-year grants, HUD will evaluate and publish the results of grantees’ efforts in an Integrated HIV/AIDS Housing Plan. The IHHP will be an online resource to help communities “integrate the delivery of housing along with medical and other supportive services,” said Vos.

The grants and IHHP are intended to support both President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy and his Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

President Obama released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in July 2010 with specific, measurable targets to be achieved by 2015. One of the strategy’s goals is to help people living with HIV “who have challenges meeting their basic needs, such as housing.”

The strategy says that “non-medical supportive services, such as housing, food, and transportation, are “critical elements of an effective HIV care system.”

The strategy calls for increasing from 434,000 to 455,800 the number of people receiving HIV-related services under the Ryan White Care Act who have permanent housing. The Ryan White Program, the largest federally funded program for people with AIDS, provides services for those who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources.

According to the strategy, “Individuals living with HIV who lack stable housing are more likely to delay HIV care, have poorer access to regular care, are less likely to receive optimal antiretroviral therapy, and are less likely to adhere to therapy.”

One 12-year study of people living with HIV in New York City, cited in the strategy, found that “housing assistance had a direct impact on improved medical care, regardless of demographics, drug use, health and mental health status, or receipt of other services.”

But HUD’s announcement comes only weeks after the U.S. House passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2012 that AIDS activists believe will diminish HIV programs and services.

The proposed budget, authored chiefly by Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, calls for dramatic cuts in Medicaid, which provides health insurance coverage for people with low incomes.

And it calls for dramatic cuts in Medicare, which provides health insurance coverage for Americans 65 and older and for people with disabilities, including AIDS.

In a letter to members of the House in April, a large coalition of groups serving people with HIV had urged a “no” vote on the plan, saying it “will do irreparable harm to people living with HIV disease as well as those at risk for HIV infection.”

In addition to addressing the housing needs of people living with AIDS, HUD has also taken several significant steps towards addressing housing discrimination in the LGBT community.

It has issued proposed new regulations intended to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in its core housing programs.

It also clarified that, although the Fair Housing Act — a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status, does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination, it may still provide them with protection in other ways.

For example, discrimination against a gay man because of fear he will spread HIV/AIDS may constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability, HIV/AIDS.
HUD has also instructed staff to inform individuals about state and local LGBT protections that may apply to them. And HUD has told all its grant applicants they must comply with such laws, where they exist.

Applications for the new grants should be submitted at grants.gov by Aug. 2. Winners are expected to be announced by Sept. 20.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

County to partner with community ASOs

Forums planned to gather ideas from community will focus on strategies to prevent HIV infection

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dr. Steven Harris, left, and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price
EXTENDING THE FIGHT | Dallas County Health and Human Services Medical Director Dr. Steven Harris, left, and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price discuss new efforts to fight the rising HIV infection rate in the county during a press conference on Thursday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallas County Health and Human Services Department officials announced Thursday, Sept. 16, that they are forming a new partnership with AIDS Arms and Resource Center Dallas to begin new HIV awareness and prevention programs.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of numbers,” said DCHHS Director Zachary Thompson.

Among the initiatives announced were community forums to find new ways to create awareness and spread the message of prevention.

“The key is resident input,” Thompson said.

The county will also open a new testing clinic in far North Dallas, an area with increasing HIV rates and a lack of HIV services.

“If money could have cured this, probably we wouldn’t be here today,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

He said that an estimated one in five people infected with HIV in Dallas County do not know their status, adding that “HIV disproportionately affects certain populations.”

Among the groups with a recent increased infection rate are people age 50 and older. Saturday, Sept. 18 has been named National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. AIDS Arms has coordinated a number of testing locations around the county. Those locations are listed on the Dallas Voice website.

Dr. Steve Wilson, Dallas County’s STD/HIV medical director, said that early in the decade the area saw a decrease in the HIV infection rate. By 2006, there was a leveling off.
He attributed that, in part, to increased testing efforts by the county. He also said that current testing detects the virus earlier. At least 30 of the 850 to 900 people diagnosed locally last year would not have been detected with traditional testing methods.

Wilson said that three areas with most of the increase in infection rates are Oak Lawn, Oak Cliff and North Dallas. He said that to address the needs in those areas, the county was partnering with community-based organizations.

Bret Camp, associate executive director of Resource Center Dallas, said that early intervention produces the best clinical outcome.

“With the recent advances in HIV treatment, it is now a chronic, manageable disease,” Camp said. “Testing and education are our best weapons to fight the spread of HIV.”

He said that on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m., Resource Center Dallas would host the first community forum on strategies to join together “to create a successful plan that will reduce HIV transmission and give us healthier communities.”

Camp said they are looking from input from people who are HIV negative and positive and HIV infected and affected.

AIDS Arms Behavioral Intervention Specialist Ed Jones said a second forum would be held in South Dallas at the Urban League, 4315 S. Lancaster Road, on Oct. 28.

Jones said that because on an increased need for HIV clinical services, AIDS Arms would be opening a clinic in Oak Cliff in addition to its South Dallas Peabody Clinic.

One group that has seen a significant rise in HIV infection in Dallas County is younger people age 13 to 24. In 2006, two 13-year-olds were diagnosed. In 2008, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds tested positive in Dallas County.

Rubin Ramirez
Rubin Ramirez

Price said that until recently, Dallas County was the largest in the country where condoms were not available to younger people because of an abstinence-only sex education mandate.

“In 1992, there was basically a ban by the court,” he said. “Let me say that I am very glad to stand here today and say that has been repealed.”

He said that purchasing condoms was not an issue. Condoms are available at the county health department for distribution.

“They are available as a protection mechanism,” he said. “It is available in your toolbox in Dallas County.”

Dallas County’s Chief Epidemiologist Wendy Chung said that the infection rate among 13-to-24-year-olds is 54 per 100,000. She said that represents a 30 percent increase in recent years.

Rubin Ramirez of Resource Center Dallas said that one of reasons for the increase in infections is apathy.

“People are immune to the message because of treatments available,” he said. “They think things are OK.”

He said the goal was to bring HIV awareness back to the forefront.

Price agreed and said that was a big problem in the African-American community.

“Magic made it. It can’t be that bad,” Price said referring to basketball player Magic Johnson who was first diagnosed with HIV 19 years ago. “There wasn’t anything magic about Magic, and we need to bring urgency to this issue.”

Currently, about 14,000 people in Dallas County are living with HIV. That is a 30 percent increase over the past six years. The growing number is partially due to longer life expectancies for persons receiving medications.

Of that amount, 67 percent of cases are among gay men and others identified as men who have sex with men. Women represent just 22 percent of the cases in Dallas County.
A disproportionately high percentage of HIV infections in Dallas County are among minorities. Hispanics account for 23 percent of the cases and blacks 48 percent.

While Dallas is the third largest city in Texas, it has the highest infection rate, according to AIDS Arms. Since 1981, 15,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses in North Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

HIV testing planned around Dallas on Saturday

AIDS Arms Inc. and Dallas County Health and Human Services have scheduled HIV testing at various locations around Dallas County on Saturday, Sept. 18, which has been declared National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.

According to county HHS Director Zachary Thompson, the 50-and-older population is one group that’s contracting HIV at higher rates than the general population.

Rubin Ramirez of Resource Center Dallas said he thinks people in this age group have become immune to the HIV prevention message because of treatments that are now available.

For more on some new Dallas County HIV/AIDS initiatives, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

Testing times and locations are below:

—  David Taffet