Alegria: a place of hope and refuge for HIV families

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by Pili Martinez and Ignacio Villamar

AIDS—in the Hispanic community, this health crisis is considered taboo, but knowledge of the virus and of the support available is critical for the well being of all. According to AVERT (Aids Education & Research Trust) estimates, 172,993 Hispanics are infected with HIV/AIDS in the United States.

The Salvation Army opened its “Alegria” facility in Los Angeles in response to the urgent need for affordable housing and support both emotional and physical for homeless and low-income families affected by HIV/AIDS. Here, families can stay together without the stigma attached to the HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Alegria provides essential healthcare services including: expert care, child development, counseling, tutoring, recreational and social activities, substance abuse and sobriety services, life skills, parenting, literacy and computer classes, legal clinics, HIV/AIDS education, employment assistance, referrals to other services, and placement into other transitional or permanent housing when needed.

A typical family entering Alegria is not only homeless and affected by HIV, but may also be impacted by drug dependency, alcoholism, mental illness, domestic violence and/or histories of child abuse or neglect. The majority of people served by the program are minority groups (about 50 percent Hispanic and 50 percent African-American).

Ricardo and Valeria’s story

In many Latin American countries HIV/AIDS treatments are limited and prohibitively expensive, with the average monthly cost ranging from $1,300 to $3,000. “This amount is beyond our means,” Valeria said. Unfortunately, such was the reality for this couple from Durango, Mexico.

In 1999, Ricardo was diagnosed with HIV after a long battle with drug dependency. “I used to bring my own needles; I never thought it was going to happen to me. Many people from my community were very ill and others were dying, ignoring the fact that they had HIV,” Ricardo said sadly.

When Valeria found out her husband tested positive, she decided to take an HIV test along with her seven-year-old son. She was terrified by the word “SIDA” (AIDS)—everybody she knew talked about all the people who were dying in her community. Several times she said to herself that if she tested positive she was going to take her life.

In November 2000, while Valeria stood beside her pastor in church, her sister-in-law read the words that would change Valeria’s life forever; she had indeed tested positive. Taking a deep breath she said; “my only comfort was that my son tested negative.” Up to now, Valeria’s family was oblivious to her illness, except for her mother and two brothers who knew but refused to accept it.

Realizing they were losing everything due to the illness, including a small clothing boutique, Ricardo decided to leave everything and come to the United States. He didn’t come to make money, but to escape from the social rejection. A few months later, Valeria and her son arrived in the U.S.

The situation was devastating—they were renting a little space in a living room. The three of them slept behind a sofa, but some days they stayed in the back of a car because the owners of the house were constantly having parties. “I could not continue this style of living; I prayed for a better life,” Valeria said.

Miraculously they were referred to “Alegria” and their lives changed in an instant. Today, Valeria and Ricardo are receiving personalized professional health care, including temporary housing, where they will be able to stay for two years. “The Salvation Army has helped us at the right time; today our lives have a better structure, we are closer as a family, we are taking better care of ourselves, and more importantly, we are fighting this illness with dignity,” Ricardo said.

Thanks to Alegria, this family now lives with the comfort that God is with them at all times. This gives them the fortitude to continue living their lives with a positive attitude.

Larsson installs Swyers

Larsson installs Swyers

by Robert Docter –  GENERAL JOHN LARSSON, assisted by Commissioner Freda

Comm. Bill and Gwen Luttrell conclude service, re-enter retirement

Comm. Bill and Gwen Luttrell conclude service, re-enter retirement


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