Fulton expands efforts to help Black, Latino men at risk for HIV

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A $2.5 million grant is helping Fulton County health officials provide a holistic approach to caring for young Black and Latino men at risk for HIV or who are already HIV-positive.

The grant from the federal Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration provides $500,000 per year for up to five years. The funds go to Fulton and several partnering agencies to provide a range of services for Black and Latino men who have sex with men. It’s a first-of-its-kind grant for the county’s Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, which administers the program with the Fulton County Board of Health.

“This is actually our first time ever applying for a program like this. We were very, very excited when we found out that we have been awarded the grant,” said Lynnette Allen, the senior programs evaluations specialist for the behavioral health department.

The grant has funded three new social service coordinators for the department. They will link clients to a range of services, including mental health and substance abuse counseling, HIV care, housing assistance and food support. The program is free for Black and Latino men ages 18 to 40 who live in Futon and are uninsured or underinsured.

Fulton has one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country and is one of four counties in metro Atlanta targeted as part of a federal plan to end HIV by 2030. So the grant and services it funds are welcome additions to the county’s fight against HIV, Allen said.

“One of our main goals is to ensure that people are getting services that they need, as well as remaining compliant and staying in those services so that they can feel better and have a great quality of life, even if they’re HIV positive,” Allen said.

In addition to identifying those Black and Latino men at risk, another goal of the program is to help those who have HIV and enrolled in care, but stopped treatment.

“A part of this is reaching out to the community letting minority men know one, you may be at risk, but two, there are services available to help,” Allen said. “Also for those who may have been once in service or been in treatment for HIV. They may have dropped out for whatever reason, so we’re also doing outreach to them to get them back into care, to offer them medications, to offer them some other social support services in the community.”

Some 32 people have been enrolled in the program so far, but county officials want to more than triple that number as they wrap up the first year of the grant later this month. The program can enroll up to 107 people per year.

“We really want to increase those numbers. There is open capacity,” Allen said.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the program’s outreach efforts, so the county has turned to social media and digital advertising to reach potential clients.

“We had to be really innovative and creative with some ideas in order to get people to realize the services are here and they can still access those services,” Allen said. “We’ve come upon some barriers, but we’re doing really well.”

The grant program works with the Board of Health, the county’s Ryan White Program – which funds a variety of medical and support services for people with HIV – CHRIS 180, River Edge Behavioral Health, Grady Health System and several HIV service organizations in metro Atlanta.

“We try to meet them wherever they are to take care of the overall person,” Allen said.

For more information, visit the Fulton County Board of Health at 10 Park Place South in Atlanta and ask for the Sexual Health Program, call 404-376-5366 or 404-372-2869, or visit the program’s website.

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