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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Our Response to HIV/AIDS: The Importance of Employment Services

12/5/14 01:45 PM | Rachel Ehly | Health Care, Employment, Homelessness

It is 2014, not 1980. We know more about HIV and AIDS than ever before. We know what causes it, we know how to prevent it, and we know how to help those living with this illness lead longer, fuller, more meaningful lives.

For many years dealing with HIV/AIDS has been about making sure those diagnosed were able to access the disability benefits available to them. Life with HIV/AIDS was about discrimination, stigma, death, and dying.

With research, medical advances, and grassroots action, people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are living longer and healthier lives. However, for many people, poverty and residential stability continue to impede their wellbeing. In 2006, the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 50% of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. are at risk of becoming homeless. The same report states that mental and emotional factors can play a role in the progression and worsening of HIV/AIDS. Homelessness is a stressful, traumatic experience for people without these diagnoses; for those with HIV/AIDS, these factors can exacerbate symptoms and the speed with which the disease might worsen.

Successful employment is one of the key ways to fight homelessness and improve outcomes for people with HIV/AIDS.

Helping those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS get back into the workforce is imperative to their physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing. Beyond the obvious financial benefits of employment, a meaningful job brings purpose, satisfaction, and community to a person’s life. Dylan Orr, Chief of Staff for the Office of Disability Employment Policy, expressed the same sentiment in a recent blog post, “Today, more and more people with HIV/AIDS are living healthy lives and can and want to work – and research clearly demonstrates the benefits of doing so. Employment is a key social determinant of health; it offers purpose and the opportunity to live an independent, self-directed life.”

A paradigm shift has started to take place. Instead of just helping those with HIV/AIDS receive benefits, a push has begun to offer employment services and help them find jobs.

However, with this push comes the challenge of making sure work environments, policies, and procedures are accommodating to the unique needs and concerns of this group. For starters, employers need to make sure they have policies in place to prevent discrimination. They also need to make sure that employees with HIV/AIDS have the health insurance plan options to meet their unique and expensive health needs. By allowing job security or even payment during long periods of sickness for these individuals, employers can create a safe and meaningful work environment that will assist in keeping people with HIV/AIDS working, housed, and well.

Over the past several months here at the Center for Social Innovation we have worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Labor (DOL) to develop an online training curriculum for providers. This curriculum explores the reasons why employment services for people living with HIV/AIDS are so important and discusses successful approaches for incorporating employment services into HIV/AIDS services—including housing services.

In October, HUD and DOL launched Getting to Work: A Training Curriculum for HIV/AIDS Service Providers and Housing Providers. The first module in a three-part series, it explores the reasons why people living with HIV/AIDS are choosing to find employment and why service providers should work with these individuals to achieve this goal.

This approach focuses on treating the whole person and living full lives. Learn more here.


Image by Jeff Olivet.

Rachel Ehly

Written by Rachel Ehly

Rachel has worked with t3 since May 2012. As Managing Director, Rachel overseas all of t3's day-to-day activities. She received a B.A. in Communications and Entrepreneurship and a Master's degree in Public Administration from Clark University.