AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Twelfth Night celebration is in the pink

In the liturgical calendar of the Christian church twelfth night is the last day of the Christmas season. (Remember the 12 days of Christmas? They start on December 24 and end December 5) Twelfth night also kicks off the carnival season that culminates in the celebration of Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Olympus, Houston’s own predominately gay Mardi Gras Krewe, welcomes the season in style with “Pretty in Pink:” a twelfth night fundraiser benefiting the Montrose Counseling Center. The festivities are Saturday night, January 7 (’cause who wants to party on a Thursday?) starting at 7 pm at the Counseling Center (401 Branard) and include traditional king cake as well as an open bar, hors d’oevres and a Mardi Gras mask auction. In keeping with the theme guests are invited to wear their best outfits in shades of pink (be it blush or bashful).

The Krewe of Olympus started in New Orleans in 1970 before moving to Houston. According to their website:

We are one of the largest predominately gay Krewes in the United States, although our membership is open to all. Our principal aims are to present theatrical and educational events that perpetuate and continue Mardi Gras traditions and to raise money for community charities. Since moving to Texas, we’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Houston and Dallas Charitable Organizations. We are a 501(c)(3) non profit organization.

Tickets for the event are $35 and are available at the door.

—  admin

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

Dallas Diablos vs. DFW Sisters in kickball for charity

Angels vs. Demons

What do the rough-and-tumble Diablos and the ever-so-spiritual Sisters have in common? The Diablos, who play one of the roughest team sports, compete in the not-gay Texas Rugby Union and participate in the International Gay Rugby Association. Part of their mission is to forge friendships and celebrate differences.

And nothing in Dallas could be more different than The DFW Sisters, a mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. But that group is also dedicated to respecting diversity. And both groups include fundraising for community organizations as part of their core mission.

So what else could the Diablos do but accept the challenge when The Sisters invited them to play a game of kickball for charity?

“What a fun and zany way to raise money for Legacy,” said Legacy Executive Director Melissa Grove. “I applaud their ability to create a new and fresh event. I’ve been doing this a long time and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.”

DEETS: Kickball at Field No. 1, Glencoe Park, 5300 Martel Ave. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. $5.

—  Rich Lopez

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS Casino Party tonight

Expect a full house

Lone Star Ride hosts their fourth annual casino night which is so much more than a poker felt on a table. Craps, Blackjack, Roulette, Texas Hold ‘Em poker all come in to play tonight as players feel like they are in Vegas for the night. Hopefully you’re a good player because all those winnings can be spent on the silent auction which includes gift certificates, hotel packages and so much more.

It’s a blast of a night and all you have to throw down is cash for the ticket. The chips are given to you upon entering. How can you possibly beat that? Well, maybe by helping raise money for Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, that’s how.

DEETS: Audi Dallas, 5033 Lemmon Ave. 7:30 p.m $50 advance, 65 door. For tickets, click here.

—  Rich Lopez

Putting the pedal to their mettle

545 MILES OF HOPE | Wild Stallions Trae Schaefer, Christy Lestina and Burt Barber raise money on Saturday to pay for their rides in California this summer. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Lone Star Ride veterans the Wild Stallions take their biking-for-bucks operation on the road

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

There are much faster ways to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But few more scenic. Or more charitable. For a solid week — this year from June 5–11 — more than 2,500 cyclists will pedal the 545 miles between two major California towns to raise money for fighting and bringing awareness to AIDS.

But you don’t need to be from Cali to participate. Indeed, among that group of enthusiasts pumping along the Pacific Coast Highway will be Dallas’ Wild Stallions.

Made up of gays and straights alike, The Stallions are united in their love of biking and their desire to help a greater cause. Saturday, the team hosts a two-hour Spin-A-Thon at the Cooper Aerobics Center to help raise money to get the cyclists ready to ride. It’s not small change to enter: A minimum of $3,000 per rider is needed to cover the cost of travel, hotels, meals, entry fees and the cost to ship their bicycles.

It’s all part of the fun of cycling for a cause. In 2002, Stallion Burt Barber was invited to a fundraising event for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. At the time, he chose to donate money rather than participate because the idea of riding 175 miles over two days seemed nearly impossible.

Nine years later, he’s an old hand, preparing for a ride more than three times as long. Following back surgery in 2003, Barber was no longer able to run, so he quickly took up cycling as an alternative.

“As I started training, I met friends and we started training together. We named our group the Wild Stallions after an energy drink at the 7-11 by White Rock Lake that we made into a pit stop during our training rides,” Barber says. “We trained hard and realized how fun and enjoyable this has become, so we started to ride in various charity rides.”

The Stallions have participated in the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS every year since 2003 and have no plans of stopping. The California ride is just an opportunity to raise awareness in a different way. This year will mark Barber’s second time in the AIDS LifeCycle, his first just two years ago.

“That was a difficult ride emotionally for me,” Barber says. “One week before that ride, I paid a visit and said my goodbye to Jason Harmon. This was difficult because as I said goodbye,

Jason told me to come back and tell him how the ride went.” Two days before the ride began, Harmon passed away.

“Jason was inspirational to me and instrumental in my cycling. He was the crew captain and always cheered me on training rides. And on the rides themselves, he was always there flagging me in and pushing me to finish.”

Barber rides in his honor and for Janet Park, the woman who first introduced him to the Lone Star Ride.

For fellow Wild Stallion Trae Schaefer, participating in the ride is essential to getting out a bigger message.

“There is a misconception by a lot of people that HIV/AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease because of all the progress with the various medications,” he says. “You see advertisements every day that make it look like simply taking a pill will allow you to lead a normal, healthy life even if you are HIV-positive. Anyone who knows someone who is positive and takes these pills knows there are serious side effects, which are sometimes just as bad as the disease itself. We need to remind people that no cure has been found and we need to remember all of those that have died from this dreadful disease.”

He says this ride, like so many others, provides awareness, remembrance, and most importantly, a reality check.

Straight team member Christy Lestina participates for personal reasons, as well.

“I have friends who are HIV-positive and need my support. I have also had a dear friend pass away from AIDS in 1993 and I am still saddened by his loss. I want to make a difference in my friends’ lives who are affected by it,” she says. “I feel that riding my bike 545 miles is the least I can do to ease their pain.”

It has benefits for the riders as well, though.

“What you really get is a sense of becoming part of a family, knowing that all the hard work you put in fundraising, training and riding really does make a difference for a lot of people,” Schaefer says. “You get to personally meet these people and hear about how much you help change their lives by doing something as simple as riding your bike for seven days. I may not be able to donate a million dollars, but after the ride, I feel like I have.”

Cooper Aerobics Center, 12200 Preston Road. April 16, 1-3 p.m. Anyone interested in donating to the Wild Stallions can email Burt.Barber@yahoo.com or visit AIDSLifeCycle.org and donate in the name of a team member.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright