Exploring ATL’s non-profit organizations that care for our community
If any community knows what it’s like to rely on one another in tough times, it’s the LGBTQ community. For this issue, we decided to take a healthy look into our local nonprofits not only to show support for their causes and tip our hats to their hard work, but to provide an easily digestible guide to those who may be in need of their services.
For many young people finding the courage to be themselves, authenticity comes at a big price — the loss of their family relationships and, often, their homes.
Some of our youth’s coming-out experiences turn into living nightmares, leaving them with nowhere to go but the streets. But, in 2011, three men set out on a mission to change that for local LGBTQ youth who found themselves suddenly homeless.
Founder and former executive director of Lost-n-Found Youth, Rick Westbrook, along with Art Izzard and Paul Swicord, created the foundation after they were turned away by local shelters and other youth programs when they requested help and placement for LGBTQ youth. For the trio, it was a problem that needed to be addressed immediately to keep queer, homeless youth off the streets.
The Atlanta-based nonprofit was started with support from the Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to create the privately funded emergency shelter. The task seemed overwhelming, but the organization was determined to change the fate of queer youth who found themselves on the streets during some of the city’s devastating weather conditions and/or unable to find meaningful work without proper documentation.
According to the organization’s website, they provide the following services to youth in need: emergency and transitional housing; 24/7 phone, texts, and email response; emergency clothing and food for youth on the street; mental-health evaluations and counseling; referrals to HIV/STD testing; health and dental services; assistance for lost or stolen birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or state ID cards; referrals for GED training/testing and other education resources; and resume writing/editing and interview skills training.
Lost-N-Found is on a mission to create a home with a family-like environment for young ones who have been abandoned by their own families. They support youth 13–25 years old through its Youth Center, and provide transitional housing for youth 18–25 years old.
The agency has made a name for itself as it continues to grow and expand programs to support their overall mission. They provide hope that, despite their current circumstances, the youth still have a chance for a positive future. On the streets, it’s only natural for one’s survival instincts to kick in to protect themselves. Unfortunately, those young people become vulnerable and will often turn to theft, panhandling, prostitution, or drugs to survive. In an effort to prevent the youth from turning to those options, the organization’s street outreach team of volunteers are active in the streets trying to find and offer assistance to the homeless youth.
Through the outreach program, Lost-N-Found provides referral services and procures and deliver blankets, tents, clothing, food, and water. A pre-intake interview is conducted before any youth is invited or transported to the Lost-N-Found Youth house or other helpful agencies for support.
The mission and purpose of the nonprofit continues to grow, with the agency itself sharing the growing pains. This summer, Westbrook resigned, leaving the door open for Audrey Krumbach, formerly of local nonprofit Living Room, who is now the organization’s interim executive director. Like Westbrook and Lost-N-Found’s creators, Krumbach is determined to carry out the original mission of providing hope to queer, homeless youth.
Krumbach will lead the organization through the 2018–2021 strategic plan. Plans are to continue growing its services by adding more transitional housing sites, expanding drop-in center hours, and maximizing educational engagement with the community in order to meet the growing need. The overall goal is to increase funding and visibility, and to develop an efficient and effective infrastructure to better serve the youth.
The public can help support Lost-N-Found in a number of ways. One of the easiest may be to support one of the two Lost-N-Found Youth Thrift and Consignment stores. Donations of clothing and various items are accepted, and the general public is encouraged to shop at their locations in Atlanta and Norcross.
If you’d like to volunteer, you must commit to six months and attend a volunteer orientation session. Volunteers must pay a $20 fee and pass a background check before working with Lost-N-Found Youth. Volunteer orientation meetings are conducted on the second Thursday of each month at 7pm and the second Saturday from 2pm to 3:30pm at 2585 Chantilly Drive, Atlanta, GA, 30324.
Who hasn’t seen the all-familiar blue sticker with a white equal sign adorning the backs of car windows around Georgia?
The simple logo is the trademark of Georgia Equality, our state’s political advocacy organization. The organization’s mission is to advance fairness, safety, and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities — and their allies! — throughout the state.
Georgia Equality continually works to help pass pro-equality legislation and get fair-minded officials elected. Georgia Equality is made up of two organizations — Georgia Equality, Inc. and the Equality Foundation of Georgia. Both have the common goal of advocating for our community.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham began his advocacy work when he was a college student working with LGBTQ and AIDS issues. He uses those early experiences and legislative advocacy campaign work in his current role. Georgia Equality continues to work on issues that plague members of the LGBTQ community such as safe schools, nondiscrimination policies, community safety, parental rights, marriage and relationships, HIV advocacy, and trans advocacy.
While helping the average citizen who may face a number of issues because of their sexual orientation, Georgia Equality also endorses political candidates who have an inclusive agenda. In one of the biggest political campaigns this year, Georgia Equality recently announced that they are endorsing Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor.
Part of Georgia Equality’s mission is educating the LGBTQ community about political candidates while keeping the community aware of legislation that may directly affect us, both negatively and positively. By making the community aware of important and impactful legislation in our houses of government, members are encouraged to contact local officials to voice their opinions and concerns and ultimately help the powers that be make the right decisions. Through the Equality Foundation of Georgia, the agency conducts voter registration and educational activities, provides information to decision makers, and works to organize and mobilize LGBTQ residents and allies to advance equality in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the state.
A watchdog for all things taking place under the golden dome, Georgia Equality’s goal is to keep We The People informed. People can sign up to receive the organization’s Action Alerts, which consist of breaking news of upcoming bills that may soon be voted on. These alerts will also include requests for people to send emails, make phone calls, or to meet face-to-face for direct communication with elected officials. You can sign up to receive emails and alerts on the Georgia Equality website. The group can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.
Along with the bumper sticker, you can get involved by making monetary donations. Another way to get involved is through volunteering. Volunteers can help out in the office, events, on certain campaigns, voter registration, phone banking, or public speaking.
In the early 1980s, AIDS/HIV was making a deadly mark in the gay, male community throughout the US. Atlanta was no exception. As more men became diagnosed, a deep and unabiding fear spread as people lay dying of a disease with no known cure. It was a crisis that needed to be addressed, so AID Atlanta formed in 1982 by Graham Burton and its first Executive Director Caitlin Ryan.
The agency was formed at a time when fear of the disease created a hysteria among people afraid that they too could contract it by simply touching someone affected. So much misinformation was spread about the disease. Some factions even called HIV/AIDS a “punishment for being gay.”
In the face of such negativity and bleakness, AID Atlanta’s founding members were on a mission to provide support and hope. They wasted no time reaching out to those hit hardest — black and latino communities.
Today, AID Atlanta’s services have remained active throughout the years and grown to become one of the most comprehensive AIDS-service organizations in the Southeast. The organization’s website reports that they offer HIV/AIDS prevention and care services, including (but not limited to) primary care, HIV/STD screening, PrEP, community HIV prevention programs, linkage services, case management, and a statewide information hotline.
The nonprofit’s mission remains the same — to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life for its members and the community by breaking barriers and building community. Education is a key to maintaining the vision of AID Atlanta. By becoming more visible and known around the city, the goal is to get people tested and provided with care as quick as possible. In an effort to meet the needs, they are launching an impressive initiative to expand their behavioral health and case-management services and add an onsite 340B and retain pharmacy.
The overall goal is to “transform lives every day,” and AID Atlanta continues to be active in high-risk communities through their HIV outreach and education programs. The organization takes a hands-on approach by not only working with people who need their services but by also providing emotional support to those affected.
The services provided by AID Atlanta are individualized to a client’s needs. In order to receive services provided by the organization, one will need to provide proof of HIV status, live in the agency’s 20-county EMA (eligible metropolitan area), and have a gross annual income less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. A photo ID is not required.
The volunteer-driven organization relies heavily on donations and contributions. One of the organization’s biggest community events and fundraisers is the AIDS Walk & 5K Run. This year, the 28th annual walk/run will be held at Piedmont Park on October 21. Participants in the AIDS Walk & 5K Run will raise money for the organization’s seven participating local HIV/AIDS programs. This year’s goal is to raise $750,000.
Living Room is the state’s largest facilitator of emergency and transitional housing for people living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the organization’s website, Living Room is Atlanta’s centralized intake and housing information and referral agency, able to assist more than 1,500 individuals each year and make an important difference in their lives.
Sister Mary Jane Lubinski founded the organization in 1995 as part of Trinity Community Ministries to assist people living with HIV/AIDS find stable, affordable housing. It became a 501c3 organization four years later. For Sister Mary Jane, housing was not just an essential part of helping people to maintain human dignity, but as foundation of effective treatment of HIV.
Sister Mary Jane’s Living Room has, over the years, made itself one of the go-to places for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS who have fallen on hard times due to health. Living Room is one avenue to help find affordable housing so that living on the streets isn’t their only option.
The agency provides subsidized supportive housing, housing referrals, and housing-related emergency assistance. The programs and services are tailored to meet the diverse needs and situations of their clients.
More than 90 percent of their clients are defined as extremely low income, so finding and maintaining affordable housing is essential to preventing homelessness. The group serves the 29-county Atlanta area and rural Northwest Georgia area around Rome and Dalton.
They have over eight programs they believe will help to end homelessness for people living with HIV/AIDS. The programs consist of emergency lodging, supportive housing, tenant-based rental assistance, special needs housing assistance, permanent housing placement, short-term rent/mortgage utility assistance, recuperative care, and housing counseling. Living Room relies on donations and volunteers to help fulfill their mission. Living Room uses 85¢ of every dollar donated on those services. Of the remaining, 9¢ covers rent, technology, phone, and internet service, office supplies, staff benefits (including health insurance), printing, board development, and administrative staff salaries. Donations they receive are continually used to one day end the problem of homelessness for people with HIV/AIDS.
The Health Initiative
Dennie Doucher founded The Health Initiative as The Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative in 1996. Doucher and her friends were motivated to create the organization after they experienced homophobia and lack of support for partners and caregivers when they sought healthcare. ALCI provided support groups for lesbians and set their sights on educating the medical community on how to cater to their lesbian patients. Doucher died of breast cancer two years after the organization’s founding. Since her death, the organization has awarded the Dennie Doucher Healing Angel Award to people who have dedicated time to bettering the healthcare experiences of LGBTQ people. Past Healing Angels include Charis Books and More and Decatur Women’s Sports League founder Anne “Sarge” Barr. The award recipients are honored at the organization’s annual Garden Party, which also serves as a fundraiser.
In 2004, The Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative became the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative to address other health and wellness issues that affect lesbians. The organization changed its name one more time to The Health Initiative in 2011 and expanded its focus to include the healthcare needs of every member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. The organization established their health fund in 2008 to assist uninsured and underinsured LGBTQ people. Those in need of aid can apply for funding online during certain dates each month. The Health Initiative also partners with local medical clinics to make referrals for LGBTQ-friendly healthcare. Their partners include Grady Health System, Center For Black Women’s Wellness, Metropolitan Counseling Services, AbsoluteCARE Atlanta, and Planned Parenthood of Georgia.
The Health Initiative also provides cultural competency training for healthcare providers interested in gaining a better understanding of the needs of LGBTQ people. The training includes information on proper LGBTQ terminology, health disparities, and how to make sure an environment is LGBTQ friendly. The trainings can be hosted onsite or in The Health Initiative’s facility.
The Health Initiative has a partnership with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). This program is dedicated to alleviating the challenges of aging LGBTQ people. SAGE Atlanta helps LGBTQ elders access healthcare, advocates for LGBTQ senior rights, gives elders opportunities to socialize with each other, and provides educational resources on LGBTQ aging.
The Health Initiative hosts a variety of events including healthcare screenings, town halls, and support groups. Their most recent event was a Fat Kid Dance Party, co-hosted by body-positive activist and fitness instructor Bevin Branlandingham.
National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities, Inc. is dedicated to addressing health and wellness matters relevant to black, gay men. The organization was created in 1990 by Rudolph H. Carn, Madam Edna Brown, and Mae Gratis Reed during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The organization’s original focus centered squarely on education through workshops and meetings, but they shifted their focus to include HIV testing as technological advancements in treatment progressed. NAESM considers love to be their most important value. The organization’s motto — We Love You, Love Yourself, Be Healthy — was created to assure the targeted population that NAESM cares, vows to be a support system, and ultimately helps individuals live healthier lives.
NAESM connects people to healthcare services related to HIV/AIDS, while also giving free STD testing for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis without appointments. NAESM also provides free mental-health counseling for uninsured HIV-positive people and their loved ones, and housing assistance via their Gerald’s House program. Gerald’s House helps with permanent housing placement, short-term funding for bills and rent/mortgage, and rental location assistance.
NAESM host an annual conference dedicated to presenting research and strategies for the fight against HIV/AIDS and to promote wellness among black, gay men. Next year’s conference is scheduled for January 17–19 in Arlington, Virginia. The conference was started in 2001 and is typically hosted in a city with a high population of queer men affected by HIV/AIDS.
During the conference, NAESM hosts a Build-A-Brother track. The track takes 20 “Young Black Men who have Sex with Men (YBMSM)” from the South and spends four days immersing them in courses that prepare them to work on fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health issues that affect YBMSM. Their training includes information on personal branding, social marketing, new developments in HIV/AIDS treatment, and grant writing. During the track, the young men are asked to pitch ideas and create a presentation to be exhibited on the last day of the conference.
NAESM’s dedication to mentorship extends outside of the confines of a yearly conference. Their nSPIRE Mentorship Program pairs newly diagnosed, HIV-positive young, black gay men, ages 16–29 with mentors to help them navigate poz life. The goal of the program is to promote viral suppression, and mentors are to model a health lifestyle for their mentees.
The organization opened their community center, Da Cribb, on August 7. Da Crib serves as an extension of their services and hosts special events in a place where the community can hang out and kiki. NAESM is also hosting a Spirit Week to coincide with Atlanta Black Pride.
Out Front Theatre
Paul Conroy founded Out Front Theatre Company in 2016, because he believed LGBTQ stories were missing from Atlanta’s theater scene. Fresh out of graduate school, Conroy studied theater in other cities and noticed some of them were LGBTQ-centered.
“I thought, ‘Atlanta has a theater community that focuses on African-American work, one that focuses on women’s works, even with that focuses on Irish work. But we didn’t have anything for a queer audience.’ It was around the time that marriage had become legal in all 50 states,” he tells Georgia Voice.
The company’s first production, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical,” debuted in October 2016. “Priscilla” was a show about a group of drag queens who take a cross-country roadtrip. Conroy’s vision for the company is not outwardly political, but he wants to make his audience think.
“I want people to leave the theater and talk about the show,” Conroy told The Newnan Times-Herald. “In a positive way, in a negative way, talk about the issues that are brought up.”
Out Front has lived up to that vision. In March 2017, the company found itself in a swarm of controversy because of their production of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.” The idea of LGBTQ folks being included in the Bible stories ruffled more than a few feathers and resulted in a stream of harassment. It got so bad Atlanta Police and Homeland Security had to get involved.
“They don’t approve with what they feel is the unfair representation of the Christian faith. They’ve been calling us vile and disgusting and we should be ashamed and we’re going to hell and all of that standard stuff. Every time I open my email, I have 100 new messages,” Conroy said at the time.
Still, the show must go on and it did. The controversy has not deterred Out Front.
Out Front’s current season started on August 13 and goes all the way to March 2019. The season will feature a diverse array of plays including The Ethel Merman Disco Christmas Spectacular and the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winner “I Am My Own Wife.” On September 22, Out Front will host “The Rainbow Ball,” a fundraiser that promises a “decadent” dinner, live performances, and “more sparkle than any mirrorball imaginable!”
Out Front offers season tickets that include reserved seats, invitations to special events, and flexibility to change show times and dates. The company also sells theater plaques via their Have A Seat campaign for patrons interested in immortalizing themselves or anyone else.
Out On Film
Now in its 31st year, Out On Film — Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival — is looking forward to a busy fall season, with its regular festival and an appearance by noted writer Armistead Maupin over Labor Day weekend. Maupin, who wrote the “Tales of the City” novels, is working on a new version of the series for Netflix.
Established in 1987, Out On Film has grown into one of the largest LGBTQ film festivals in the country. Jim Farmer has been with the organization since 2008 and is celebrating his 10th anniversary as the organization’s festival director and executive director. In addition to a team of volunteers, the festival has a part-time staffer as well, Justice Obiaya.
One of the things the organization has worked on over the last decade is branding and consistency — keeping the event the same date every year, beginning on the last Thursday of September. “There was a time when Out On Film bounced around a lot from month to month,” says Craig Hardesty, Out On Film’s board chair. “With so much going on in Atlanta, we feel it’s important to have it the same time every year.” Another added element is making the organization’s programming year round. In 2018 alone, Out On Film has sponsored or co-sponsored showings of “Love, Simon,” “Raising Zoey,” and “The Wound,” and worked with the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and the Atlanta Film Festival on screenings.
As well as grants from Turner, the Georgia Council for the Arts and Fulton County Arts Council have kept the festival on solid ground. In addition, brisk ticket sales have helped. Last year’s four screenings of “A Sordid Wedding” with Del Shores, Ann Walker, and Emerson Collins sold out quickly and attracted 1,400 patrons.
This year’s film festival takes places September 27–October 7 and runs 11 days, with more than 125 films spread out over three venues. Some of the films scheduled include “Every Act of Life,” about prolific playwright Terrence McNally, the man behind such plays and musicals as “Love! Valour! Compassion!”, “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and scores more; “Wild Nights With Emily,” in which Molly Shannon plays Emily Dickinson in a film about the little-known sides of the writer, such as her relationship with another woman; and an encore of “Man Made,” Atlanta director T. Cooper’s documentary about the Trans Fitcon in Atlanta and four trans bodybuilders getting ready for it. This year’s full schedule will be announced on August 27.
Lambda Legal is the first non-profit organization dedicated to securing LGBTQ rights via the courtroom. The organization was founded in 1973 and their non-profit status itself was their first battle. Founder Bill Thom actually applied to establish Lambda Legal as a non-profit a year prior, but was met with resistance from judges in New York’s legal system who thought the organization’s mission was “neither benevolent nor charitable.” With pro bono help, Thom took the issue to New York’s highest court and secured the organization’s first victory.
Lambda Legal went on to be involved in some of the most high-profile cases in LGBTQ history. One of their earliest cases, Gay Student Organization v. Bonner, resulted in the University of Hampshire allowing LGBTQ student activities on campus. Lambda Legal is also responsible for the first legal victory in favor of people with HIV/AIDS. They represented Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, who was being evicted from his office building because he was one of few doctors in the 1980s willing to treat patients infected with HIV/AIDS. Lambda Legal fought the eviction and despite appeals from the building’s co-op, he was able to remain in the building and treat his patients. Lambda Legal also fought for damages related to the death of Brandon Teena, the subject of the film “Boys Don’t Cry,” and argued in cases that resulted in the federal strikedown of sodomy laws.
In 2009, Lambda Legal won a case that resulted in Iowa’s Supreme Court declaring the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The organization was co-counsel of one of the cases involved in Obergefell v. Hodges, which led to the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country.
They are currently also involved in an amicus brief related to an appeal for Charles Rhines, a gay man currently on South Dakota’s death row. They believe some of the jurors advocated for the death penalty because they “knew that he was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison,” as its male population may make it enjoyable. Despite the bias, the judge proceeded with the trial.
Lambda Legal is also involved in two cases related to securing rights for transgender people in the workplace. One case is for Jennifer Fletcher, a state employee who wants to use her insurance to cover expenses related to her transition. The other, EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, involves Aimee Stephens, who claims she was fired from her job because of her gender identity. In an admirable display of transparency, Lambda Legal maintains a list of open and past court cases on their website.
Living up to its name, Positive Impact Health Centers is a substantial provider of affordable HIV care.
For more than 25 years, this Atlanta nonprofit has connected persons living with the virus to one of the city’s most robust offerings of affordable medical, psychiatric, and social services, all with one simple goal: providing client-centered care for the HIV community to have a life worth loving.
Working from locations in Duluth and Decatur, the nonprofit provides basic needs such as HIV and STI testing, to more specialized care such as nutritional support and help finding housing. Best of all, grant funding allows them to offer most services on a sliding-scale basis.
They service some 30 counties, with patients coming from all over for care, according to COO Joey Helton. Indeed, the organization has increasingly solidified funding to serve a community which, unfortunately, continues to grow rapidly in Georgia.
The Atlanta metro area has long been a leader in the nation in HIV infections, an unfortunate fact attributed largely to rising infections among queer men of color.
The group has shown no signs of slowing down in its commitment to serving the community. Last November, leaders expanded to a sweeping 25,000 sq. ft. facility in downtown Decatur. The move, a big change from their long-standing Midtown location, put them closer to where many of their clients lived and gave them room for a pharmacy, several exam rooms, and counseling spaces. The new facility features a private entrance and service area that allows clients living with HIV to maintain their privacy when seeking treatment.
But Positive Impact’s role in the community doesn’t end at its front door. The group is involved in a number of community events and fundraisers, sponsoring an AIDS Walk team and hosting a comedy-show fundraiser this month. What they’re best known for, however, remains providing a nest of services that reaches far beyond basic testing, be it help finding a meal or a place to stay.
We’re all familiar with the huge floats traipsing through midtown each fall, club music blasting and queer-friendly chants filling the air. But when the streamers are put away and the glitter swept up, what more is there to the organization responsible for one of the oldest LGBTQ parades in the nation?
A lot! The rollicking parade may indeed be its annual highlight, but this 501(c)(3) comprised of LGBTQ and allied community leaders is dedicated to advancing unity, visibility, and self-esteem in the rainbow community 365 days a year.
They do it by hosting mini Pride celebrations, game nights, book discussions, and more to get queer folks active and interacting with their community beyond the October celebration.
To be clear, the Pride festival and parade — now in its 48th year — is no small undertaking. After all, the event draws 300,000+ LGBTQ men, women, and allies to the city, pumping millions into the city each fall.
But times are changing, and organizers are broadening their focus to address evolving community needs. Originally, offerings were centered solely on the Pride celebration, but the 43-member committee recognizes that LGBTQ men and women are evolving, their needs and interests becoming more sophisticated and diverse. The group has responded with a multi-year strategy that focuses on ways to expand. Goals include creating formal partnerships with organizations serving LGBTQ people of color and programming catering to the aging. It’s all in a day’s work for the Atlanta Pride Committee. Who knew it was so much more than one big party!
They’re the rainbow-decked moms and dads at the front of the Pride parade and the friendly faces handing out pamphlets to fellow parents grappling with a newly out son or daughter. They’re PFLAG, a decades-old group that brings families together.
Founded as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the D.C.-based groups outlines its mission as providing a supportive channel for families journeying toward accepting their queer loved one. Their bigger goal, according to the group, is changing attitudes toward gays and lesbians one parent at a time.
The grassroots organization — the largest of its kind — has ~200,000 members meeting in some 500 communities from Alaska to Alabama. That includes the Atlanta chapter, as well as regional chapters in areas like Marietta and Macon.
PFLAG’s formula for more inclusive families involves equal parts community outreach and one-on-one attention via support groups that meet monthly. In Atlanta, that means queer men and women, allies, and other supporters meet on first Mondays and third Sundays to form a circle and discuss current topics, which can range from how to reconcile religion with gay identity to coping with a high schooler coming out. PFLAG doesn’t begin and end with monthly meetings, however. The Atlanta chapter is also involved in hosting gala dinners, speaking at businesses on LGBTQ issues, and making high-profile appearances.
At the national level, the group is an active voice speaking out on issues like family equality and partnering with corporations like Johnson & Johnson to lend a voice to LGBTQ concerns.
Back home in Atlanta, PFLAG is making a difference in the lives of everyday parents, like Jennifer Slipakoff. She joined the group in 2014 after her elementary-school aged child came out as trans. “For me,” she tells us, “it’s just a place where people get it.”
The year was 1988 and the term HIV had only relatively recently dropped, like a bomb, into the American vocabulary. In Atlanta, later to become ground zero for the epidemic, city leaders were awestruck at how the virus (and later AIDS) could destroy not just bodies but entire lives.
They decided to take a stand and Jerusalem House was born.
Thirty years later, the non-denominational facility is the city’s oldest and largest provider of permanent housing for low-income and homeless people impacted by HIV and AIDS. They operate under the mantra that “housing is healthcare,” a simple view that having a roof over one’s head can give someone the stability and peace of mind to take better care of themselves and thrive. The organization provides everything from efficiency apartments to substance-abuse counseling and tutoring for children.
For its efforts, the high-profile program has earned a variety of awards, including a Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award from Emory University in 2018, and four Wells Fargo outstanding nonprofit awards between 2011 and 2016.
It’s leaps and bounds from where the organization started. Back in 1988, things like PrEP were a fantasy. A coalition of Atlanta’s business, religious, civic, and medical community leaders banded together to create a living facility for those being left homeless by AIDS. They named the facility after Jerusalem — “dwelling of peace” — and envisioned a place where people could simply die with dignity.
The original facility had room for just five homeless persons living with AIDS. Before long, fundraising allowed them to expand the program, annexing the original house and creating 23 efficiency apartments. Three decades later, advances in medication mean most individuals with HIV/AIDS can live long and healthy lives. But the unique threat homelessness poses to those living with HIV/AIDS is still very real. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on any given night in 2017, more than 10,000 people living with HIV/AIDS were sleeping on the street.
In Atlanta at least, Jerusalem House is helping change that. Over the years, the program has evolved to include a Family Program, with apartments for families on a campus, and the Scattered Site programs, with hundreds of apartments scattered in complexes across metro Atlanta. The group also offers housing subsidies through its New Horizons program.
After all of these years, the Jerusalem House’s core mission remains the same — to help men and women living with HIV/AIDS find a place of solace. Only now instead of helping them die with dignity, Jerusalem House helps them live with pride.