Housing is Health: AIDS Services Dallas

AIDS Services of Dallas (ASD) provides housing and support services for low income and homeless individuals and families living with or impacted by HIV. ASD operates four apartment complexes, which are licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services to serve 225 men, women, and children in 152 bedrooms within 125 privately-configured apartments. Support services include meal and food services, housing-based case management, medical case management, and transportation.

One of Achieving Together’s focus areas is addressing mental health, substance use, housing, and criminal justice. We believe that addressing these needs is essential to creating supportive and stable environments in which people can achieve their health and wellness goals.

Achieving Together sat down with ASD President/CEO Traswell Livingston III to learn more about ASD and the services they provide.

What makes ASD unique?

We’re an exclusive housing provider for individuals that are HIV positive and their families. We use housing as a stabilizer or a health driver for individuals and households. We believe housing is healthcare, so we provide housing first, then we work on an individual basis with care plans and educating them about their HIV. We have an array of services, but the housing part is what makes us unique because we use the housing to start the engagement.

How did you become involved with ASD?

I’ve been in affordable housing since 1998. This has always included LGBT, HIV positive individuals, and those with behavioral health and substance abuse needs. At this point in time our program and our organization focuses on HIV positive individuals.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the housing we maintain because we don’t develop or maintain what you would think of as affordable housing. The apartments are intentionally designed and operated to look like any private sector housing apartments in the community. Our mantra has always been to be intentional with our design and operations. I’m most proud that we maintain and operate beautiful, quality housing, within an atmosphere that’s beautiful and promotes respect, justice, and mercy. We’ve evolved as HIV has evolved since 1987, but still maintain a residence that people are proud of and have their own independence within. 

How have you adapted in terms of Covid?

Since we work with people with underlying health conditions, education and communication have been an ongoing focus, along with implementation of changes based on local governance. We’ve had to be able to adapt. One of the biggest changes has been the way we serve meals. Serving meals door to door was new for us. We became DoorDash and Uber Eats without the tips. Due to safety concerns in our dining areas, we had to box up the meals and deliver them instead. We became a strong provider of food and nutrition.

In addition, I can’t undersell the education and communication involved. There was so much fear of Covid. Addressing the fear was a stage in itself for our organization. We have people who haven’t traditionally used the health industry as far as navigating healthcare independently. It’s mostly been through medical case management and education through a liaison.

Then we got to the stage of vaccination and faced people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated. That was another phase of education and communication. We had to be examples and model vaccinations. But we’re proud to have a high percentage. Our residents are close to 87% vaccinated. It wasn’t overnight. It took time and modelling and communication.

Are there any myths or misconceptions about the population you serve that you’d like to address?

There are so many misconceptions – including the stigma tied to men who have sex with men, our youth residents and how they identify, and seniors in our program who are 55 and up. Our program includes a wide array of diverse people.

Another misconception is that our residents don’t want to achieve independence. Our residents have overcome adversity, trauma, violence, criminal backgrounds, and rejection in the community. There have been so many barriers, but our residents are resilient. Once given the opportunities, they’ve had so much success – of home ownership, of people getting jobs, of advancing their careers, of helping others and becoming mentors. There’s a perception that it’s a victim population and that’s not true. Someone who is stabilized with affordable housing will want to focus on their health and medications and living safely with HIV, which helps end this epidemic. Our percentages of the 90/90/90 goals are 100/100/97%. We are very, very successful in achieving viral load suppression because people are not living under a bridge or in tents. We serve a low-income population that would be homeless in many cases if this housing wasn’t available to them.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

We’re glad for opportunities like this to spread the word about the services and programs that we do and the model that we have. We want the engagement. We’re proud of our program design. We think it works; we think it’s best practice.  We want to share the design, across the region, across North Texas, across Texas, and nationally. Housing is health. We want people to know that with affordable housing, people can start focusing on other needs that they have as individuals. We invite people to sign up to our newsletter here. We want to yell it from the rooftops – we believe housing is a health indicator and we provide housing intentionally because we want to end this epidemic.