In April 2011, five African-American men put their minds together to think of how to address the needs of African-American men living with HIV/AIDS. By 2012, they had created the HIV Intervention Project, established to link those living with HIV/AIDS with affordable healthcare and to provide them with workforce development.

But last fall, the city of Atlanta approached Greg Smith, executive director of HIPAtlanta, letting him know that a larger space had opened up in the building the organization occupied. Was he interested?

Indeed he was. By November they had been approved to take over the space, expanding nearly five times over from 275 square feet to 1300 square feet. But with that expansion came an expanded mission and services.

HIV Intervention Project Atlanta was renamed Human Impact Project Atlanta and on June 1, they moved into their new space where they will offer free HIV and STD screenings, linkage to care, a community computer center and support group space for African-American men throughout Atlanta regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Addressing common challenges

Greg Smith is on the move, darting from one room to the next one recent Friday at the Dunbar Recreation Center in the Mechanicsville community of Atlanta. It’s a good thing he has the energy he does, because he’ll need it. He’s a few days in to the move to HIPAtlanta’s new offices and there are rooms to complete, signs to be posted, furniture and other items to be set up.

“What I teach now is always trying to find in our community what is our common challenge? And so when I look at African-American men regardless of whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, our common challenges are HIV, STD, employment and criminal history challenges,” Smith told Georgia Voice.

That’s a lot to tackle for one organization in a city with one of the largest populations of African-American men in the nation. Currently, the HIV testing is up and running in the new space, and Smith says by July they’ll be up and running full blast offering the following.

  • Digital Center with free computer access, free fax machine access, STEM workshops, youth coding classes and senior computer literacy.
  • Social Media Room
  • Testing & Treatment Services including HIV testing, confirmation, viral and T-cell count testing, and STD and hepatitis screening and treatment
  • Certification and Verification Space with SNAP (food stamps), insurance navigation, Medicaid verification, ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) and background check and drug testing assistance
  • Revenue and Impact Coordination Services including grant development, for-profit revenue streams operations and a texting and social media management team

‘Outreach plus testing equals linkages’

“What we’re trying to do is find ways to make people want to come in,” Smith says. “So when we do outreach, we’re saying, ‘Come on in and use the computer.’ When someone comes in, while they’re here, we can say, ‘Well, have you had your HIV test?’ So it creates a win-win. That way they’ll say, ‘I need to go back over there, man. They’ve got this and this and this.’”

It’s all part of the organization’s philosophy: “Outreach plus testing equals linkages.” Smith and HIPAtlanta’s plan is to make enough of those linkages to solve or at least temper those challenges common to African-America men in Atlanta.

They’re being helped along the way by partnerships with Fulton County Department of Health & Wellness and the Georgia Department of Public Health, and they receive funding from AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Gilead, and the communications marketing firm Edelman among others.

The next step is something HIPAtlanta’s staff has been working on for the past two years—building an online platform to move things to the next level.

“If we can build the infrastructure, we can then create jobs where we have people who are peer navigators, we can create jobs for outreach workers, and we can replicate the model across the nation,” Smith says. “That really is the premise of HIP. It’s the social impact model of having the health impact, having the economic impact, and creating jobs while addressing the public health issue. Our gap is now, especially around African-American men, that we want to be part of the whole economic chain.”

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