Center Helps People With HIV/AIDS Live Through Support, Medical Care
March 6, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
A little over a year ago, Josh Simms
decided to continue living.
Newly diagnosed as HIV positive, the
24-year-old Hartford resident says he had just about given up.
"I was really depressed and suicidal
when I found out," he said. "I didn't think I'd live long."
But Simms' attitude toward his illness
changed when he became a member of the Living Center, a Community
Renewal Team-sponsored facility that provides counseling, medical
services and referrals to people with HIV/AIDS.
"They saved my life here. I think
I would still be hanging out with the same negative people,"
For almost a decade, the center was
located on Broad Street, but moved to Main Street in January. Though
smaller than the former site, members say, the new location is more
accessible because it is on a bus route, and they like the newly
added services, such as massage therapy and acupuncture.
Funding for the center is provided
by the Ryan White CARE Act Title I grant through the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.
"It's like a big family here,"
said one woman, who declined to give her name. "Everyone here
is in their own stage of the disease. We meet here every day and
when someone isn't here, we notice it. The object is to help each
other to be strong."
Jose Vega, the center's assistant director
of supportive housing, said the members are a close-knit group who
look out for each other, though he said they still bicker when someone
doesn't show up for a program or keep the place clean.
"I love my job, though sometimes
they drive me crazy," Vega said. "It comes from my heart,
but also because I'm a gay man, I understand the stigmatism ...
what it's like to be discriminated against. I want people to understand
how to be safe, to be protected and to take care of themselves."
To become a center member and obtain
services, clients must be referred by another agency and be HIV
positive. "I'm not happy about my situation, about being sick,
but I'm happy to be here," said John Woodward, who was homeless
when he joined in 1997 and had little access to counseling or health
"The denial, the needing of support
groups to talk about your condition and what you have been through,
it is excellent to have," he said.
For information on The Living Center,
call CRT at 860-247-1088.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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