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For Basinger, the fight for housing goes on

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Brian Basinger speaks at the June 17 opening of Jazzie's<br>Place, the city's new shelter for LGBTQ adults. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Brian Basinger speaks at the June 17 opening of Jazzie's
Place, the city's new shelter for LGBTQ adults. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Brian Basinger, director of the AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, hasn't had an easy time of it. The long-term HIV survivor left his St. Louis, Missouri home in 1981 at age 15 after coming out as gay.

"There was violence in the home and at school and I was in fear of my life," he recalled, speaking to the Bay Area Reporter from his San Francisco office. "I bought a $200 Chevy and headed west."

Basinger's journey to San Francisco included a stop in Dallas.

"I helped in the founding of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Youth Alliance when I was 17 years old," he said. "At the time it was quite controversial â€" LGBT people were very, very nervous about being associated with youth. Especially those of us who were underage, sexually active, and in the firestorm of the AIDS panic. You could say that I've always been attracted to new movements that are at the leading edge of social change."

The longtime activist said that he wasn't afraid of controversy.

"I'm fearless that way, or stupid, still not sure," he said.

When this weekend's San Francisco Pride parade takes place Sunday, June 28, Basinger will be one of several community grand marshals. It's an honor that was bestowed upon him by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board for his work in finding â€" and saving â€" low-income housing for people with HIV/AIDS, seniors, and the disabled.

Basinger, 48, said he's gratified for the recognition.

"To be appointed as one of San Francisco's community grand marshals in the Pride parade this year, on top of everything else, is almost beyond human comprehension," he said. "Not only do I thank everyone who has supported our collective work, I thank the universe for letting me live to see such abundance. I'm profoundly grateful."

Basinger said the mission of the alliance is simple.

"We believe in a world where all people have a safe, decent, and affordable home," Basinger said. "Toward that vision we prevent homelessness for the HIV and LGBTQ communities by protecting the housing we already have, providing resources to secure new housing, and promoting public policy to expand opportunity for all."

In addition to saving and securing housing, which the AHA has done for around 5,000 people, the agency provides over 10,000 mostly vegetarian brown bag lunches to their members each year. This program, called Simply Sandwiches, is a project that AHA coordinates with Mercy Housing; LYRIC, the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center; Episcopal Community Services; and the Coalition on Homelessness.

AHA, which has an annual budget of $1.5 million â€" Basinger said he started the agency with $100 from his disability check in 2004 â€" this year received $600,000 from the city to provide housing assistance to 61 seniors living with HIV.

He's also proud of his work on the shelter for LGBTQ adults that recently opened at 1050 South Van Ness Avenue in the city's Mission neighborhood.

"Five years ago, Tommi Avicolli Mecca and I started the crusade for the nation's first LGBTQ adult shelter, which just opened in time for Pride," he said. "It's named Jazzie's Place, after our fellow activist, the late Jazzie Collins, who committed her life to fighting for transgender people, people of color, homeless folks, seniors, those of us with HIV/AIDS, and so many more."

Avicolli Mecca, who served as a community grand marshal last year, praised his colleague.

"It is so appropriate to honor Brian as a grand marshal. Long overdue, in fact. I remember when AIDS Housing Alliance was a desk and phone in the back of my office," said Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling programs at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. "Since then it's helped house thousands of homeless people with AIDS. Brian's is a legacy of caring to be proud of."

Basinger described some of his frustrations around housing work.

"The greatest challenge in my work is the attitudes and morals of some of the people we elect to public office," Basinger said. "It is exceptionally frustrating to witness people who are in a position to affect positive change who continually use their position to further their own career goals."

He said that his greatest disappointment is seeing people die while they wait for housing, especially when they die on the street or give up and die by suicide.

"My heart breaks a little every day," Basinger said.

But the job also comes with its joys.

"Without a doubt the greatest joy in my work is the shared success we have with our members who get out of homelessness and into safe, decent, and affordable housing," he said. "The greater the challenge, the greater the reward when success is finally achieved."


For more information, visit http://www.ahasf.org.


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