AIDS Project closes
by Tom Kilduff
Hit by declining revenue, the Native American AIDS Project (NAAP), a small organization that served mostly indigent clients, closed its doors earlier this month.
Officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health said that the clients have transitioned to other agencies. An NAAP official said those agencies included the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
"Each client was referred hands-on of where they would be the best fit," said Darren English, board president and spokesman for NAAP. "Some clients need more mental health assistance, some need a trans program, and some need Latino or Hawaiian approach. And some are perfectly happy going to SFAF."
API Wellness Center Executive Director Lance Toma said that less than 10 high risk transgender clients from NAAP transitioned to his agency. The clients were previously served by NAAP under a collaborative with API, Toma added.
"These clients began accessing social support and HIV prevention services at our Trans: Thrive community drop-in center at the beginning of December," Toma said in an email.
Over at SFAF, spokesman James Loduca said that the agency's Positive Force program is in the process of transitioning some NAAP clients. The foundation also hired one of NAAP's case manager as a temporary employee, he said.
The health department was notified September 11 of the impending closure and became involved in the transition.
"Our job at DPH is to support NAAP in closing and linking their clients to new services, which is what we've been doing these last two months," said Tracey Packer, director of HIV prevention who has helped in the transition. "We are also supporting staff with information and references about where any potential jobs may be."
According to internal budgets, five staff members were on payroll, four of whom were full-time.
English, who was a client of the agency 18 years ago, said, "the agency had struggled for at least four years." In addition to a drop in revenue, its lease was not renewed, he said. The agency formally closed December 14.
English said that the agency saw about a 50 percent reduction in funding, mostly from foundation grants.
"We've seen an almost $100,000 reduction every year for the past four years," he said. "It's been a steady decline."
An internal budget document, provided by English and dated December 14, shows that NAAP had an ending net income of $11,682.62 after all revenue and expenses were accounted for. The organization, founded in 1994, was located at 1540 Market Street and specialized in culturally appropriate services for Native American and indigenous populations who are HIV-positive.
"We dealt with clients who were kicked out of other agencies, folks who had multiple diagnoses, addiction and alcoholism as well as being HIV-positive," English said.
The Bay Area Reporter was not able to speak with former staff members or clients.
NAAP received the bulk of its funding from two branches of the Department of Public Health: $125,000 from HIV prevention and $102,000 from HIV health services. According to Packer, "funding was to remain level going into 2013 and into the future." The agency served 43 clients in its prevention program, the number of clients on the medical side was not known at press time.
The B.A.R. was given copies of projected budgets for fiscal years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 by English. Salaries were modest, ranging from a low of $12,000 to a high of $62,000. But from November 2012 through June 2013, the agency would have to run deficits each month, according to internal documents.
NAAP had fallen behind on paying the rent, English said in a December 18 phone interview. The landlord had posted an unlawful detainer (eviction) notice. DPH became involved so that the agency could stay in the building until December 31. The landlord did not renew the lease.
"We looked at many options and searched for an affordable location including subletting from another agency," English said. "We hoped DPH would make NAAP a city program. We looked at everything we could think of."
Toma said that he understands how NAAP's closure may be difficult for clients.
"We know this kind of loss can be very hard for clients and our goal is to create as much stability for them as possible, as quickly as possible," Toma said.
He added that API Wellness Center also provided information to NAAP on all of the men's, transgender, HIV, and medical services his agency provides so that referrals could be made.
"If these clients choose to come to API Wellness Center, they will have access to high quality primary care, dental services, mental and behavioral health services, case management, and critical social support services to keep them healthy and in treatment through this transition and beyond."
Past and future and circles
English leaves his participation at NAAP on a sad but grateful note.
"I have never met a group of people more dedicated to their clients," he said. "This staff has worked through budget cuts, furloughs. They went three weeks without pay and the clients had no clue. It is heart-wrenching to have to close as NAAP has been such a huge part of my support system, knowing that they were always there."
Many clients, staff, and volunteers will seek support in Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, which had also been a fiscal sponsor of NAAP. BAAITS Co-Chair Ruth Villasenor spoke highly of the now-closed agency.
"The reason you haven't heard from the staff, I suspect, is that they are at that place where they are hurting, angry, and sad," she said. "There is competition for funding where the government pits minorities against each other. You have to have the numbers to prove your services are needed."
Certain Native American-centered activities could easily find a home in more mainstream care services, English believes.
"We would have beading classes and a talking circle. When you get somebody's mind that is focused on a repetitive task like beading, they are more likely to share what they are feeling," he said.
In this capacity, the beading classes served as an adjunct to group therapy. Traditional healers were frequent visitors and drum circles were frequent events.
"NAAP always had an open door policy," Villasenor said.
Toma said the closure of NAAP leaves a void in the city's HIV programs.
"The NAAP closure is a terrible loss for San Francisco's Native American community and we in the HIV service network must respond to try to fill this gap," he said.
In the last several weeks, members of the Native community were there to mourn with NAAP. At the 14th annual American Indian Child Resource Center Pow Wow at Laney College, the folks at the agency were honored, Villasenor said. As for memorabilia, English said that he wants to donate "pieces of buckskin with the names of those who've passed away" to the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society.
"Another thing we've become known for is end of life," English said. "Many times we would receive phone calls that there were Native persons in the morgue unclaimed; our staff became proficient at reuniting loved ones with their families."
And speaking of family, English added, "that is the one thing, family, that was the thread that connected all these Native cultures. You take care of your family. See the guy on the street, that's your family."