Our History

San Francisco became the first city in the United States to experience epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS. Three decades later, the fight against the disease continues. That's why San Francisco AIDS Foundation will always be here to answer the call from our community, until HIV/AIDS is no more. This is our commitment to our city, and to the thousands of people we serve each year.


“An eerie thing happened when we started the foundation in 1982. The guy from the phone company came to install the phone line. And as he was walking down the stairs to leave, the phone began to ring before we had even publicized the number. The phone never stopped ringing. Thirty years later, it’s still ringing.”

-Cleve Jones, Co-Founder

Our History

In April 1982, a group of community leaders and physicians, including, Dr. Marcus Conant, Frank Jacobson, Cleve Jones, and Richard Keller, came together to respond to the emerging health crisis plaguing mostly gay men in San Francisco. They formed the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, then called the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation, becoming the second HIV service agency of its kind in the United States. They first operated out of a small office on Castro Street with a dedicated team of volunteers providing basic AIDS medical information, resources, and referral services. By the fall of 1982, the foundation’s single-telephone hotline had become nationally recognized for providing accurate AIDS information. San Francisco quickly became a central resource point for other groups forming across the nation.

In the years that immediately followed the creation of the foundation, the disease began to spread beyond just the gay community. Intravenous drug users, women, and people of color were also suffering from HIV/AIDS. In response, the foundation’s programs and services expanded in size and sophistication to meet the needs of our city’s most impacted populations.

The foundation’s early work included an array of educational initiatives to disseminate up-to-date information about the disease during a time when there was so much fear, stigma, and misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS and how it’s transmitted. Primary audiences included people living with and at risk for HIV, health and human service providers, and the general public. The foundation became renowned for developing bold, innovative public health campaigns to encourage safer sex practices. Working with local community partners and legislators, the foundation helped to develop effective policies to effectively respond to the disease.

As the epidemic evolved in the late 1980s and 1990s, it became clear that despite our best local efforts in San Francisco, fighting HIV/AIDS was going to require additional support and resources from the state and federal government. So the foundation expanded its public policy and advocacy efforts to Sacramento and the White House. Across all levels of government, the foundation has played a leading role in championing landmark HIV policies, including the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency (CARE) Act in 1990. In coalition with AIDS organizations around the country, the foundation remains a strong leader on local, state, and federal policies that protect the human rights of people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS. 

Drawing upon the success of the foundation’s domestic advances in expanding access to HIV/AIDS care and treatment, the organization broadened its portfolio of work to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries starting in 2001. While important, the global programs spun off into an independent organization in 2009 and the foundation recommitted its energies to providing direct services to people in San Francisco. It created a strategic plan with three ambitious goals: reduce new HIV infections in San Francisco by 50% by 2015, ensure all San Franciscans know their current HIV status, and make sure all people living with HIV/AIDS have access to proper care.

Guided by this strategic plan, San Francisco AIDS Foundation continues to innovate its programs to meet the evolving needs of the community. The foundation confronts HIV in populations most impacted by the disease with services focused on prevention, care, gay men’s health, syringe access, and alcohol and other drug use. Until HIV/AIDS is no more, the foundation will always be here to answer the call from our community.

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