BY JULIE GRAY
Four years ago, medical problems brought Tom here so he could be closer to IU Health Bloomington Hospital. At first, Tom (last name withheld), now 62, and his wife, Terri, stayed with friends, “moving from place to place to place,” he explains. Finally, though, the spare beds ran out, and they landed in a shelter. Sick, unemployed, and homeless, Tom next discovered he was HIV-positive.
Their situation turned around after Terri contacted Positive Link, the Bloomington-based program that provides free housing and social services to some 200 HIV-positive clients in 23 south-central Indiana counties. Tom’s caseworkers found him doctors, support services, and, most importantly, an apartment. Positive Link has even installed handrails throughout the apartment. “There’s no way I could have done all this without them,” Tom says.
Although Positive Link, a program of IU Health Bloomington Hospital with a $1.5 million annual budget, relies on government funds for much of its support and private donations help, its biggest fundraiser is an annual AIDS walk. The 2015 event, its 11th, will take place 5 p.m., April 10, on the B-Line Trail. The theme this year is Light the Night, and walkers will be outfitted with glow sticks and glow necklaces. The Community AIDS Action Group, the Bloomington Hospital Foundation, and the IU School of Public Health are coordinating the walk, which will include food vendors, speakers, and activities for the whole family. Dogs and cats are welcome but must be leashed.
The walk’s fundraising goal is $16,000. But raising awareness is just as important, says Emily Brinegar, Positive Link’s prevention coordinator. “We don’t talk about HIV as much as we used to,” she notes. “Students who are now in college were barely born during the height of the AIDS crisis.”
That lack of awareness explains why young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 account for the greatest number of new HIV cases and why prevention is an important part of Positive Link’s mission. Last year alone, Positive Link conducted 1,500 HIV tests and educated more than 2,000 people.