Activists Demand City Council Intervene in Atlanta’s HIV Housing Predicament

By Patrick Saunders, Project Q Atlanta 

The City of Atlanta canceled a meeting of HIV policy experts in the midst of an HIV housing crisis, prompting nearly 100 advocates to demand an emergency meeting of the Atlanta City Council.

It was the fourth of five meetings of the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) Advisory Council that the city has canceled since its formation, according to Daniel Driffin, deputy executive director of Living Room. HOPWA is a federally-funded housing program for people living with HIV.

The meeting cancellation comes as over 70 people living with HIV face evictions, some $40 million in HOPWA funding sits unspent and the city scrambles to correct years-long issues managing its HOPWA program. Living Room sued the city this week over allegations that city officials retaliated against the agency after spurned romantic advances and claims of “flagrant breaches” by the city in its HOPWA program.

The members of the HOPWA Advisory Council were notified less than 15 minutes before Tuesday’s meeting that it was canceled, according to Driffin (photo).

The city council is considering approving $1.5 million in emergency aid to eight entities affected by the HOPWA crisis. But the council started a two-week recess on Monday and won’t be back to vote on the aid money until at least Aug. 5. That’s too long, Driffin said.

“People are still being evicted,” he said. “We are going into August now so August rent will be due by the time city council comes back from recess.”

“Every day without proper guidance and proper communication from the Office of Grants Management affects more individuals,” he added.

The Office of Grants Management shoulders the blame for the ongoing HOPWA crisis, according to a letter the group of HIV activists, doctors and researchers sent to the Atlanta City Council on Tuesday.

“They have offered misleading information to the Atlanta City Council in an attempt to conceal the true source of this crisis and continue to move forward spreading that narrative with impunity,” the letter said.

The same advocates who sent the letter to the city council on Tuesday also sent a letter to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday expressing their “total loss of faith and confidence” in the city’s ability to manage HOPWA. The group asked that management of the HOPWA program be moved from the Office of Grants Management and to the city’s Continuum of Care department. That department is managed by the non-profit Partners For Home.

The group also requested the city reimburse HOPWA agencies “immediately” for funds the agencies spent to house HOPWA clients.

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