Shanti hands part of job to Anchorage agency

Local group focuses on education, preventing HIV

Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2000

An Anchorage-based organization is taking over housing and assistance programs for Southeast Alaska residents infected with HIV or AIDS.

Shanti, the Juneau organization that formerly provided the services, will now confine itself to HIV education and prevention.

The Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association, known as Four A's, will administer grants that provide housing and support after Shanti lost funding for the services. The group, active in Anchorage and Fairbanks since 1985, chose Cheryl Loudermilk to provide case management and outreach.

Loudermilk has worked for Shanti since 1996, so it's an easy, if challenging, change.

``I was Shanti for three years, and it's the same grant and I'm meeting clients in the same office,'' she said.

As of today, she had successfully switched more than half of Shanti's 21 established clients to services provided by Four A's.

The transition is going smoothly, said Susan Jones, who coordinates HIV/AIDS care for the state Division of Epidemiology.

``We are delivering the same services to patients; we are just jumping through different hoops. From all accounts, there is no loss in continuity; Cheryl is increasing her case load; and it has been a positive experience for the patients,'' Jones said.

One of Loudermilk's main responsibilities is handling two federal grants. Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, called HOPWA, is overseen by the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. and funds can be applied to housing, medical assistance, day care and transportation. A much smaller grant, from Ryan White CARE Title II, is administered through the state Division of Epidemiology. The main difference is that Ryan White funds cannot be applied to housing, and are not restricted by income, Loudermilk said.

Ryan White was a young Indiana activist who, in the 1980s, fought for an end to discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS. White died in 1990.

Much of Loudermilk's time is spent juggling funds from various sources, including the Tlingit-Haida Central Council.

She does her job well, supervisors say. ``When Shanti lost the HOPWA grant, we were relieved we had somebody who knew the territory as a point person,'' Kris Duncan, a planner and HOPMA manager with AHFC, said Tuesday.

Loudermilk finds her job a real source of satisfaction.

``When people first call, they may be panicked. It's rewarding if, six months down the line, their medications have the infection under control; they're back at work; they have a support system in place. It's rewarding to see them get to the point of being positive about life,'' Loudermilk said.

Federal investments in HIV/AIDS education have definitely made a difference in educating the public and reducing stigma associated with the disease, which weakens the immune system and provides opportunities for other diseases, said Ed Linsell, director of Shanti.

``The HIV IQ of kids is getting better and better all the time. We hit the high-risk populations in town -- people in jail, people at (shelters). I see an increase in people who are aware of HIV and take the appropriate measures; I am really impressed with Juneau,'' said Linsell, who became director of Shanti six months ago.

Although in the past HIV/AIDS infection has been closely associated by the public with homosexuals, statistics today prove otherwise, Linsell said.

``A minority of our HIV/AIDS clients are gay males. It's the substance-abusing population that's at risk, people who are in (alcohol- or drug-induced) blackouts. They get high on the weekends and contract the disease when they are not aware of what they are doing. Women are the population segment with the biggest increase in Anchorage and Juneau.''

Loudermilk echoed the message: ``Increasingly, HIV is not a matter of men who have sex with men. It has become diffused. Increasingly, the people I see are heterosexual,'' she said.

According to federal figures, in June 1999, there were 104,784 people in the United States living with HIV. Of those, 234 resided in Alaska.

Exact numbers are not available for Southeast, Loudermilk said, because some HIV positive residents do not need financial aid, and may go to Seattle for treatment. ``They come forward only for advocacy purposes,'' she said.

The first meeting of 4 A's Southeast Ryan White consortium will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Public Health Conference Room. Four A's executive director, Andrea Nenzel of Anchorage, will speak about the organization's role in Southeast.

For further information, people living with HIV/AIDS and all HIV/AIDS health care providers may contact 4 A's Juneau office at 586-6089 or (800) 478-2437.

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