After receiving an eviction letter, a man in emotional distress called the HIV Resource Coordination HUB. The phone line led by AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and Center on Halsted is dedicated to providing information and resources related to HIV. By the time Oscar Solis, a Rapid Responder for the HUB at Center on Halsted, answered his call, the man was extremely upset, yelling profanities and expressing outrage that Oscar could not immediately help him with his looming eviction. Oscar calmly collected basic information from the man and promised to reach back out with resources.
After consulting AFC to determine what resources might be available, Oscar repeatedly called and emailed the man but was unable to reach him. Eventually the man’s phone was disconnected, but one day, he managed to call Oscar back from a friend’s phone. Oscar was then able to let the man know he was eligible for the HUB’s emergency financial assistance.
“He felt like multiple systems had failed him by that point,” Oscar said. “He hadn’t received unemployment. His SNAP determination was lost in the mail somewhere. He’d been going to food pantries every day. It just seemed like nothing was working for him. He was extremely grateful that I didn’t just let him get lost in the wind.”
That man is just one of the more than 600 people the HUB has provided information and referrals to during its five-month tenure. Funded by the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Hub, a partnership between AFC and the Center on Halsted, launched in February to provide HIV-related resources and information to those who called the HUB’s line at 1-844-482-4040. A month later, it quickly pivoted to also support the unprecedented financial need caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
So far, the HUB has dispensed more than $441,000 to cover COVID-19-related financial emergencies for more than 289 people living with and vulnerable to HIV in the Chicago Eligible Metropolitan Area (which includes Cook County and the surrounding “collar counties”). Most of those funds have covered people’s rent, utilities and food needs.
The HUB began by offering up to $1,500 of emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV and people vulnerable to HIV who are on the prevention medication program PrEP. Later, thanks to additional funding, the HUB was also able to cover an additional two months of rent payments for people living with HIV.
“A lot of our clients continue to be our clients since the beginning of the program because many of them are HIV positive and eligible for the (additional two months of rent payments),” said Jeremy Saxon, a Rapid Responder for the HUB at Center on Halsted. “I have about 100 clients that I maintain contact with.”
The Rapid Response team at the Center on Halsted answers and assesses the HUB’s calls. The team provides referrals for resources to address social determinants of health, including case management and housing which AFC provides when needed. If callers are eligible for emergency financial assistance, a Rapid Responder would walk the client through the application process. It usually takes about one to three weeks to acquire the necessary documentation and get the application fully processed. The finance team at AFC then works diligently to get the rent and other payments out in a timely fashion.
These payments have changed many people’s lives. Jeremy said one of his clients is an older adult living with HIV in subsidized housing. The client relied on her job to buy food and pay the portion of her rent that isn’t subsidized. When COVID hit, the client lost her job and fell behind on her bills, but the HUB’s emergency financial assistance made a difference.
“Hundreds of dollars of assistance--she didn’t even max out the $1500--changed her life,” Jeremy said. “The day I called her and told her that her documentation and application got approved, this woman was in tears. It just happened to be the first day the program got extended, so I was able to tell her, we were able to not only pay for last month’s rent, but also the next two months of rent. She was overwhelmed with the amount of care.”
If you are living with HIV or are on PrEP and need financial assistance due to COVID-19, you can call 1-844-482-4040 to get assessed. The HUB’s Rapid Responders will help you determine your eligibility and next steps and find resources.
“We encourage people who think they might be eligible for the program, who can benefit from financial assistance, to at least call and get assessed,” said Roman Buenrostro, AFC’s Director of Special Projects and Planning. “In a phone call, someone would be able to tell you if your situation was one where you’d qualify to apply, and if you didn’t qualify to apply, the goal is the staff at the Center on Halsted would still give you other resources and point you in the direction of other places where you can call and request assistance.”
To support the work of the HUB, share the HUB’s number 1-844-482-4040 on social media, letting people living with and vulnerable to HIV know that if they are in need during this time, they might qualify for financial assistance.