Activists demand City Council intervene in Atlanta’s HIV housing fiasco

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. 

Advocates wait for city's plan

 

Bottoms was scheduled to appear at a LGBTQ Advisory Board meeting on Monday, but the session was rescheduled last week. A new date has not been set.

LGBTQ Advisory Board members were invited late Sunday to sit in on a meeting about the HOPWA crisis on Monday, according to a source who spoke to Project Q. A handful of board members attended the meeting, which was also attended by several senior city officials. The officials made no major announcements about the plan to fix HOPWA. The meeting was not open to the public.

A plan is coming, according to a note posted outside WorkSource Atlanta on Tuesday, the location of the canceled HOPWA Advisory Council.

“The city will release its strategy to address the systemic challenges with grants administration in the coming days and will communicate that strategy to all its partners and those impacted by HOPWA grants,” the note said.

A city spokesperson also told Project Q that a plan to address HOPWA issues is coming.

“We have been communicating the plan to restructure and streamline the management of HOPWA funds to our allies and partners, the details of which will be announced imminently,” Press Secretary Michael Smith said. “The validation of our strategy is appreciated, and we look forward to working with advocates and our partners to effectively address the housing needs of those with HIV/AIDS.”

A Project Q reader reached out to Daniel Newman on Instagram to ask about the HOPWA crisis. Newman, a former “Walking Dead” actor appointed to the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, replied with what he claimed was a statement from the board.

“The City of Atlanta is very committed to reimagining the entire HOPWA process,” the statement said in part. “In the coming days/weeks, there will be a historic announcement about the future of HOPWA in Atlanta.”

“If you know anyone who is currently at risk of becoming homeless, please have them reach out to [email protected] The mayor’s office will not turn away anyone who needs resources. Thanks again for being a concerned and engaged citizen,” the statement continued.

Kirk Rich, co-chair of the LGBTQ Advisory Board, said the statement was not from the board, but that Newman was correct about the city’s plan coming soon. Newman did not respond to Project Q’s message about the statement. A city spokesperson did not respond to Project Q’s questions about whether those at risk of being evicted should email that address, which is for the LGBTQ Advisory Board, and what resources the mayor’s office would offer if they did.

Malik Brown, the mayor's LGBTQ Affairs Coordinator, referred questions from Project Q to Smith.

The board’s confidence in the city to fix the HOPWA issues has been “pretty low” until the last two weeks, according to Rich.

“There is the potential for pretty substantial change in the way the city works with HOPWA funding that I think will be pretty positive for providers and more importantly for the people we serve,” he said. “There will be a very substantial change that I think the people involved should be expecting much better processes than we have today.”