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Funding crisis strikes San Diego groups helping people living with HIV/AIDS

SAN DIEGO -- The Four Friends, a group of non-profit organizations that provide a number of services to people living with HIV/AIDS, will hold a sidewalk sale fundraiser on Saturday, April 30.

The Four Friends are Being Alive San Diego, Special Delivery, Stepping Stone and Townspeople.

The sidewalk sale is a first step to generate money for the four organizations since government funding has been cut, which threatens the important services that these organizations provide.

The sidewalk sale will be held from 7 am to noon April 30 outside of Townspeople and Being Alive, on Centre Street at Park Boulevard. Items for sale will include electronics, office furniture and equipment, crystal items, toys, novelties and more. All proceeds will be divided equally among the Four Friends and will go to benefit those living with HIV/AIDS.

Donations (excluding clothing) will be accepted from noon to 7 pm on Friday, April 29, and the day of the sale, April 30, from 6 am to 8 am.
Café Ruth, hosted by Special Delivery, will serve coffee, tea, hot chocolate and breakfast items.

Alliance is in a time of dire need

Tom McSorley, director of resource development for Townspeople, said the Four Friends decided to work together in this time when funds are not readily available for the organizations.

“We can no longer wait for the system to fix itself,” McSorley said. “We know that in this time when dollars are tight, we need to work together, be innovative, put aside some of our own interests and focus on the most important people: those we serve.”

McSorley said the funding situation for Townspeople is at a very low point with the organization being completely shut out of funding for unknown reasons. Townspeople relied heavily on funding from the Community Development Block Grant in years past, but has been denied money from CDBG this year.

“This year, Townspeople and Being Alive, among others, were denied funding from the CDBG program,” McSorley said. “We did not even receive support from our District 3 Council person. This hurts as well because even though HIV/AIDS has been present for at least 30 years, I fret that we have become complacent to the continuing and ongoing needs of the people who are living with the disease.”

Councilmembers Carl DeMaio, Mari Emerald and Lori Zapf did recommend CDBG funding for Townspeople in the most recent round, but it failed for a lack of five votes, he said.

Shannon Wagner, executive director of Being Alive San Diego, said Being Alive was denied HIV/AIDS funding by the City of San Diego for the current year as well, but has seen an increase in clients needing aid.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in people coming in to access services across the board, at the same time, private grants and government funding for support services has dwindled,” Wagner said. “Now, more than ever, we need the communities help to continue providing these life saving services and programs.”

Ruth Henricks, founder and executive director of Special Delivery, said her organization doesn’t receive government funding of any kind.

“We do not receive any government funding so it is an extreme challenge to keep our operation funded,” Henricks said.

No funding, no services

Because the Four Friends are non-profit organizations, they rely very heavily on government funding. Without the extra support from CDBG program or the HIV Funding Collaborative, among others, these organizations are at risk of having to reduce their services.

Townspeople works to provide housing options for people living with HIV/AIDS and to provide short-term mortgage, rental and utility assistance to those living with HIV/AIDS, McSorley said.

The short-term mortgage, rental and utility assistance program is supported by San Diego County Housing Opportunities for People with Aids (HOPWA). Though McSorley said the program has been extremely successful in keeping people housed, it is under threat of ending because of a lack of government funding.

“The only outcome of this short-sighted funding gap is to add to the expensive proposition of homelessness,” McSorley said. “While funds dwindle, we have to watch as our clients head toward this likelihood. And this hurts.”

McSorley said in 2009 Townspeople became the lead agency to manage the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. This program has provided assistance to 1,300 individuals and 400 families, but has since reached capacity and will most likely not be renewed because of a lack of stimulus funds, McSorley said.

The organization also opened the first AIDS-specific housing complex in San Diego. McSorley said in October 2007, Townspeople added another 24 units in City Heights and earlier this year made another 34 new units available for people living with HIV/AIDS or struggling with other significant issues.

Townspeople also offers a number of other unique programs and services.

“Townspeople offers a robust housing and HIV/AIDS information and referral service for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and other special needs,” McSorley said. “We help people apply for government benefits, find employment, seek other income support and other resources like food.”

Stepping Stone President and CEO John de Miranda said over the past 12 to 18 months, the organization has had to rely on community events and fundraisers to ensure they can continue offering their services.

“We have had a number of events which have brought in the important ‘unrestricted’ funds that we need to fill the gap between what it costs us to deliver services and what our various contracts actually pay for (usually about 20% less than the actual cost),” de Miranda said.

He said Stepping Stone provides addiction treatment and recovery services that specializes in meeting the needs of the LGBT and HIV-positive communities. The organization also offers both residential and non-residential recovery programs and the Shelter Plus Care program, which provides long-term housing for those with disabilities suffering from homelessness.

Being Alive Executive Director Shannon Wagner said the organization works to provide high quality services to those who are affected by AIDS in a compassionate manner, and to provide education and referral services to those in need.

Being Alive San Diego offers a variety of programs including Peer Advocacy, AIDS Drug Assistance, Daniel’s Food Pantry, Recreation Activities, Support Groups, Medication Update Forums and Helping Hands Moving Services, among others.

Like Stepping Stone, Being Alive San Diego has had to come up with creative ways to find funding.

“We are launching several new fundraising programs - one of which is the 4 Friends sidewalk sale,” Wagner said.

Special Delivery aims to provide healthy meals to those who are medically homebound and/or living with AIDS, cancer or other critical illnesses.

Henricks said she started the organization as a way for people to give back to the community through the community and relies completely on volunteers to run Special Delivery. Without any government funding, it can be especially hard to keep things going, Henricks said.

But with the help and support of the community and the other three friends, Henricks stays upbeat.

“The four friends work together and do share some clients although none of us does the same service so there is no ‘double dipping,’” Henricks said. “The money raised from the [sidewalk] sale will be shared equally and I know each agency will be happy for whatever we receive.”

Forging a positive partnership

McSorley said the four organizations have really come together to support each other and share common ground, goals and clients.

“Townspeople now manages the housing component of Stepping Stone, housing a dozen or more of their clients,” McSorley said. “Special Delivery provides food and nutritional resources to our residents and our other clients. Being Alive continues to be a good resource for HIV/AIDS information and is a good referral for all the people who walk through our doors seeking help, information and support. Especially those who are newly diagnosed.”

The leaders of each of the four organizations said they are excited and hopeful for success for Four Friends.

“I'm really excited that we are all coming together with a shared vision of continuing support services for San Diegan's living with HIV/AIDS,” said Wagner, of Being Alive.

“This is our first effort to jointly put on a fundraising event and we are very excited to be working with three other agencies that share our values as well as our clients,” de Miranda said.

McSorley said the sidewalk sale will hopefully serve as a positive first step in each of the Four Friends supporting each other.

“This will not only be a great way to bring people together, but it will set the stage for more collaboration amongst other organizations,” McSorley said. “We are so much stronger together.”