Apoyo Latino: A sanctuary for hundreds of clients


With just a handful of staff, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation program Apoyo Latino provides sanctuary for hundreds of clients from Spanish-speaking countries around the world and those born in the U.S. 

“Oftentimes, Latinos and Latinas living in San Francisco from other countries need additional assistance to overcome structural or environmental barriers related to immigration status, legal issues or navigating systems of care and HIV screening and prevention,” said program manager Jorge Zepeda. “We help clients do things like apply for social services, find housing, access benefits, and change their immigration status.”

Last year, the program served about 300 people—who ranged in age from 3 years (and who was brought by her grandmother to groups) to over 70. In addition to one-on-one sessions with clients, the program held over 30 legal workshops, linked clients at risk for HIV to PrEP, and helped clients living with HIV adhere to their medications and remain virally suppressed. More than half of the clients in Apoyo Latino have monthly incomes under $300 per month, so the free services provided by the foundation are critical.

“When I am at the foundation, I feel at peace, and I do not feel pain. I feel safe,” said one program participant. “The foundation is my home. I do not need to drink, because I do not feel any pain. Instead, I feel joy when I see my community in the foundation. I do not feel as a monster or feel crazy when I am in the Latino Groups. I feel happy and at peace.”

Latino Programs celebrates and promotes diversity, says Zepeda. “Culturally, we are a diverse group—with roots in many countries and parts of the world. Latino Programs gives people, who may be separated from other friends and family, a chance to come together in friendship and support. It helps people feel part of a whole.”

Another Apoyo Latino client explained how the program helped after an HIV diagnosis. “I was diagnosed a year and half ago, and I did not believe the results. I did not feel ill, so I ignored my results. A few months ago, I ended up very ill, unable to work and sleeping on the streets. But the foundation saved my life. I trust the foundation, everyone in the Latino Programs is very nice and they have helped me to get my medicines, and to secure a homeless shelter,” the participant said.

About Apoyo Latino

Apoyo Latino, established in 1987, is one of the foundation’s longest-lived programs. Call 415-487-8000 to get more information about upcoming meetings and events, or see the Latino Programs website for more information.

Stories from Our Clients

The article above excerpted two client stories written by current Apoyo Latino group members. Here they are in their entirety. Some details and elements of the stories have been withheld to protect client confidentiality.

"I feel safe at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I feel at home."

Every day, I say to myself, “I am not a monster! I am not a monster!”  Every day when I shave my face, I do not see myself in the mirror I use to shave.  My masculine body does not match my soul, my feelings and the way I experience my everyday life.  I left my home and county when I was 13 years old. My mom was ashamed of me, abusive, and told me that I was crazy. 40 years later, I still have very painful memories from my childhood. Before I knew the foundation, I used to walk the streets in pain and tears. The foundation is my home; I do not cry any more, I feel safe at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I feel at home.

When I was 11 years old, I began using my mom’s make up, soon after, I tried her dresses and heels. My mom thought that I was “just” playing and tolerated me because I was the youngest of her 4 children, and preferred offspring.  But when I was almost 13, I wanted to dress as my mom every single day. My mom, did not approve of my desire and instead became very angry at me, and often I received verbal and physical abuse. I felt confused and hurt, I started to drink. I could not stop dressing as my mom, even more often, regardless of the painful consequences.  A few weeks after my birthday, I received another discharge of angry verbal and physical abuse. It was then, I decided to leave my home and county.

I have been drinking for many years and I have left my tears in many San Francisco Streets, Park Benches, Homeless Shelters, and Alleys. But when I came to the “foundation” for the first time, I felt at home, and my pain stop little by little and my drinking has become more manageable. After a few months of coming to the Latino Groups, I became familiar to many people who came to the groups and most of them were and are very respectful. Also I have a friend from the group who goes with me to my medical appointments, or we walk together from the foundation to the Mission District. She is my soul-sister, we protect to each other when we are not in the foundation.

When I am at the foundation, I feel at peace, and do not feel pain, and I feel safe. The foundation is my home. I do not need to drink, because I do not feel any pain, instead, I feel joy when I see my Community in the foundation.  I do not feel as a monster or feel crazy when I am in the Latino Groups, I feel happy and in peace.

"I do not feel scared when I am in the foundation."

I was diagnosed a year and half ago, and I did not believe the results. I did not feel ill, so I ignored my results. A few months ago, I ended up very ill, unable to work and sleeping on the streets. But the foundation saved my life. I trust the foundation, and everyone in the Latino Programs is very nice and they have helped me to get my medicines, and to secure a homeless shelter. I feel safe, at the foundation, I do not feel scared when I am in the foundation.

A Few months ago, I was sitting at the Saint Boniface Church door steps. I was shaking; I was feeling physically ill, hungry, and very, very, sad. A middle age Latino woman came to me and in Spanish asked me “que te pasa, porque estas temblando?/ what is wrong with you, why you are shaking?”, and  I said, I do not feel well. She told me, let’s go to the foundation, they can help you. At the beginning I did not want to go anywhere because I did not trust anyone, but I was hungry and scared, and I decided to take the invitation.  I do not regret my decision of coming to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and attending the Latino Programs groups. I have learned so many things about my health and diagnosis, medicines I need to take, and also I have met people who care about my wellbeing.  Even though, I still do not have a stable house and I am unable to work, I am not scared anymore and I feel that I have a community that care about me.

I came to the USA 8 years ago. I am only 30 years old, and in the past I felt that I was 80 years old. After taking my medication, I feel much better, I learned in the Latino groups about why I should take my medications every day, and now I do take my meds every day. It is not easy to be homeless but I feel safe and welcome at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

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