Heroes in the Fight: Meet Jesus

Affordable housing is one of the greatest unmet needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. When people have safe and affordable housing, they’re much more likely to access medical care, take their HIV medications, maintain good nutrition, and be emotionally healthy. But in a city with skyrocketing rents, stable housing is out of reach for far too many.

That’s why Jesus Moreno’s work is so important. As a housing case manager at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, his job is to help connect HIV-positive clients with rental assistance and other key housing resources. “My main objective is to get my clients housed, and keep them housed,” he says.

The foundation partners with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to offer housing assistance to nearly 400 people living with HIV/AIDS—many of whom would otherwise be in danger of becoming homeless. Jesus works with more than 80 individuals and families, all referred by SFDPH and by the city’s network of Centers of Excellence for HIV care and support. Some are surviving on the streets; others are having difficulty paying rent and holding on to their existing housing. Jesus guides them through the application process for subsidized rent, inspects their housing units for any health hazards, and provides referrals to link them with other essential services throughout the city.

And the results are life-changing. “Clients tell me, ‘Now I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to sleep or how I’m going to pay my rent this month. Now I can concentrate on other areas of my life, like keeping my appointments with my doctor, or exercising, or getting help with my mental health,’” Jesus says. “Really, housing plays a huge role in preventive health.”

Rental assistance can also mean the difference between living in a hotel room with no way to prepare meals and having a studio apartment with a kitchen. “Then they can cook, instead of just eating fast food, which is cheap but not healthy,” Jesus explains. “When people have a stove and a fridge, that makes a big difference for their nutrition.”

“And what if you have to take your HIV medication with meals but you don’t have a kitchen? You always have to carry your medications,” he points out. Housing is vital to maintaining adherence to HIV treatment—and, hence, to improving health. Having a place to receive mail and phone calls and have visitors also helps reduce isolation. “I’ve had clients reconnect with their families once they have a stable place to live,” Jesus says. “Everything comes together when you have housing.”

Jesus’s job also includes taking negligent landlords to task for health hazards in clients’ apartments. For example, after repeated requests to remove mold and replace chipping linoleum in one client’s unit, Jesus contacted the city’s housing inspector—who ultimately demanded more extensive repairs throughout the entire building. “Yesterday I met my client for a home visit,” says Jesus, “and not only did the kitchen and bathroom get new flooring, he’s also getting double-paned windows. He’s loving it! It’s quieter, so he gets more rest, and he’s going to save money on his electric bills in the winter.”

Helping clients advocate for healthy living spaces is a big part of his job. “Sometimes clients will say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother my landlord,’” Jesus relates. “I say, ‘You’re not bothering anyone! This is their business, and they have to keep the unit in good shape. We’re paying rent, and they need to fix the problem.’” He also helps clients connect with essential resources at other agencies, like AIDS Legal Referral Panel and the Housing Rights Committee, and learn to advocate for themselves. “So many of our clients have lost a lot of power in their lives. I want them to be empowered; I want them to have the knowledge and resources they need.”

It’s the same desire that brought Jesus to a career in HIV/AIDS services more than a decade ago. “I wanted to do something really meaningful for my community,” he recalls. Today he brings his experience working in HIV prevention outreach, testing and counseling, and medical case management for HIV-positive youth to his role in housing assistance. And starting next year, he’ll be studying nights and weekends to add a master’s degree in public health to his already extensive resume.

“I really like helping people,” Jesus says, “and this is a way to do it.”

Have you seen what a difference stable housing makes in peoples lives, and in our community? Share some words of encouragement with Jesus Moreno and his colleagues in the comments below! You can also learn more about San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s housing support services.

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