Limited staff and resources mean that Latinos Salud can only do so much to fight South Florida’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“We need far more resources. We’re number one in the nation [in new HIV cases],” said Dr. Stephen Fallon, executive director of Latinos Salud, which has offices in Wilton Manors, Miami Beach, and Kendall. “We just haven’t had enough boots on the ground, and there’s only so many
staff hours available in the day, trying to cover both office services and late night outreach.”
A recent report by the CDC showed that, overall, the HIV infection rate nationwide had dropped 18 percent. But there was a nationwide increase in HIV cases among gay and bisexual Latino men [up 20 percent] as well as gay and bisexual men ages 25 to 34 [up 35 percent].
“Miami-Dade County currently ranks first in the nation for its rate of new HIV infections. 82 percent of Miami Hispanic males living with HIV are gay or bisexual guys [the CDC uses the term ‘Men who have Sex with Men,’ or MSM], and a slightly higher percentage [85 percent] of new Latino male HIV cases occur amongst MSM,” wrote Fallon.
But, thanks to a grant from the CDC, Latinos Salud will be able to hire more staff members to help administer and expand its prevention and testing efforts.
“Of the 30 funded organizations, 23 will primarily target young men who have sex with men [YMSM] of color and their partners, and 7 will target young transgender (YTG) persons of color and their partners. This funding embodies CDC’s High-Impact Prevention approach, by delivering proven, cost-effective interventions to the populations and geographic areas most affected by HIV. Eligibility was limited to CBOs located in areas with a significant number of YMSM of color living with diagnosed HIV,” wrote Eugene McCray, director of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.
With the grant, Latinos Salud will expand the services and testing it offers at its Kendall location.
“The highest rates of HIV in Miami-Dade County are found in eastern side of the county, which our Miami Beach location already serves. But the county’s second highest level of HIV rates are in the central regions, especially in Kendall, Coral Terrace, Westchester, and Hialeah areas that had almost no access to free prevention or testing services before we launched our Kendall location in February of 2016,” Fallon wrote. He added that Latinos Salud is within a mile of the campuses of Florida International University and Miami-Dade College, which together have over 100,000 students.
“Half [of the students at those campuses] are Latino,” Fallon said.
Fallon said the new grant program will focus primarily on young, gay Latino men and other gay and bisexual men of color, and will also serve transgender individuals, but that everyone who requests access to testing and services will be able to receive them. The goals are to keep people from getting HIV, and to make life better for those who already living with the disease. “We try very hard to help the whole community become healthier,” Fallon said.
In addition to free HIV/STD testing, and help for clients living with HIV getting access to community resources, Latinos Salud offers ‘Gaymer’ nights, which include role-play and other games, outreach on Grindr and other GPS-based apps, and more.
“Our ‘Gaymer’ nights are often filled to capacity, and many guys who come by once are soon returning with their friends. Most important to our mission, many of the guys who come by for fun stay for education and screening,” Fallon wrote.
“We will also expand our ‘Life Coaching’ program to help younger guys living with HIV set goals that will help keep them in life saving care, and help them navigate the challenges of dating in a community where, unfortunately, HIV stigma still exists.”
Fallon said the goal is to make Latinos Salud a warm, inviting place that people feel comfortable spending time in.
“We’re set up more like a living room, like a social setting. We greet everyone like a friend, not just a client. We invite them to share a conversation and have coffee, building a rapport first and trust.”
The CDC grant also coincides with Latinos Salud’s third anniversary in Miami Beach, and the agency will move from its current location to a new facility in July. The new and bigger Miami Beach location will have better parking, and better bathroom facilities for more discreet STD testing.
Meanwhile, at its flagship location in Broward, Latinos Salud recently added Ryan White case management services, which help clients living with HIV overcome barriers that could otherwise prevent them from staying in care. In two months, the agency expects to also launch a study of communication in gay relationships.
Visit LatinosSalud.org for more information.