Keep Empowering Young Adults Living with HIV to Succeed

May 3, 2023

By Livvie Avrick 

Did you know just under half of people newly diagnosed with HIV in Illinois are young people ages 13-29, and youth living with HIV are disproportionately Black? Yes! Read that again. This data from the Getting to Zero Illinois Dashboard collected in 2020 highlights the impact of racism as a public health crisis on young people in the state.  

We know that housing is healthcare and having stable housing leads to better health outcomes. Part of AFC’s 2022-20224 strategic plan is uniting to end homelessness as we work towards ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030. One of AFC’s programs, Keep Empowering Young Adults to Succeed (KEYS), is a three-year rapid rehousing program that focuses specifically on young people living with HIV.  

Individuals within the KEYS program are between 18 – 30 years old and living with HIV. Kelvin Easterling, program manager for KEYS, oversees the referrals sent to partners, meets weekly to discuss and identify where there may be barriers, and ensures partners have what they need to provide wrap around services to all clients that get accepted into the KEYS program. “I’m working with a budget – these funds make sure clients get beds and other household needs as well as transportation,” said Kelvin.  

Some of the barriers program participants face in getting housed are not having an ID or proof of HIV status or falling out of contact because of losing phone access. Six individuals are already housed through KEYS and 3 are working with partners to find housing. Our goal is to overcome these barriers and have 40 clients housed by June 2023. 

Young people aged 13-19 have the lowest rate of viral suppression of all age groups, followed by people aged 20-29 (Getting to Zero Illinois Dashboard).  Maintaining viral suppression is one of the key ways to ending the HIV epidemic – viral suppression supports one’s individual and community health, as someone who is virally suppressed is healthier and cannot pass HIV sexually to their partners. This is known as U=U, or Undetectable = Untransmittable. 

The KEYS program is unique compared to other rapid rehousing programs, not only because it focuses on young people, but because it is a systems change program. KEYS participants have access to an employment program designed for LGBTQ+ individuals impacted by HIV and/or living with a disability. This looks like job search assistance, career exploration, assistance with maintaining employment, 1-1 career counseling and group programming while working in collaboration with a housing navigator. 

One of the goals of KEYS is to track clients’ progress throughout the program to see how access to housing affects them. The evaluation will focus on HIV care retention, social support, quality of life, and optimism about the future. This program not only gives young people the keys to a home, but also keys to a successful future.  

Categorized under AFC news, Case management, Chicago, Housing and Inside Story.

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