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December 18, 2009

 

Housing, gay-targeted info sought at AIDS town hall

Cleveland--The White House is holding AIDS town hall meetings around the country, and Cleveland hosted theirs on Thursday, December 3, two days after World AIDS Day.

The meetings are organized by the Office of National AIDS Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of HIV and AIDS Policy. Their goal is to get community input and recommendations in three main areas: reducing HIV incidence, increasing health care access and reducing health disparities.

The Cleveland event, which was originally to be held at the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland’s offices on Euclid Avenue, was moved to First United Methodist Church just blocks away, both to allow more participants to be admitted and to allow the event to be webcast on www.usestream.tv.

About 150 people attended in person, said AIDS Taskforce executive director Earl Pike, and at least 30 more participated via satellite from remote locations around the state.

“There were people from as far away as Cincinnati who drove up, and virtually every region of the state was represented,” Pike said.

Christopher Bates, the director of the HHS AIDS office, spoke to community members, organizers and service consumers at the meeting, then listened to their comments and concerns.

Testimony was limited to 90 seconds per person to maximize the number who could speak, and speakers covered every topic from the need for needle exchange programs to the importance of teen sex education.

“The thing that we heard that came up time and again nationwide is the lack of safe and affordable housing,” Pike said. “Another thing that’s come up a lot is the neglect of gay and bisexual men in recent prevention efforts.”

He pointed to Jeffrey Crowley, the head of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, who has noted that the biggest health disparity in the nation is that gay and bisexual men make up three percent of the population but are 53 percent of newly-diagnosed infections. Crowley himself is openly gay.

Representatives from Health and Human Services expressed their admiration for the turnout, telling Pike that it was a fairly good size.

In addition to the webcast, the event was also sent out on the short-message site Twitter.

“We actually had three people who were sending out tweets all night, so there were tweets going into the tweetosphere,” Pike noted. “Nobody had ever done that.”

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