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Center Helps People With HIV/AIDS Live Through Support, Medical Care

March 6, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

A little over a year ago, Josh Simms decided to continue living.

Newly diagnosed as HIV positive, the 24-year-old Hartford resident says he had just about given up.

"I was really depressed and suicidal when I found out," he said. "I didn't think I'd live long."

But Simms' attitude toward his illness changed when he became a member of the Living Center, a Community Renewal Team-sponsored facility that provides counseling, medical services and referrals to people with HIV/AIDS.

"They saved my life here. I think I would still be hanging out with the same negative people," he said.

For almost a decade, the center was located on Broad Street, but moved to Main Street in January. Though smaller than the former site, members say, the new location is more accessible because it is on a bus route, and they like the newly added services, such as massage therapy and acupuncture.

Funding for the center is provided by the Ryan White CARE Act Title I grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's like a big family here," said one woman, who declined to give her name. "Everyone here is in their own stage of the disease. We meet here every day and when someone isn't here, we notice it. The object is to help each other to be strong."

Jose Vega, the center's assistant director of supportive housing, said the members are a close-knit group who look out for each other, though he said they still bicker when someone doesn't show up for a program or keep the place clean.

"I love my job, though sometimes they drive me crazy," Vega said. "It comes from my heart, but also because I'm a gay man, I understand the stigmatism ... what it's like to be discriminated against. I want people to understand how to be safe, to be protected and to take care of themselves."

To become a center member and obtain services, clients must be referred by another agency and be HIV positive. "I'm not happy about my situation, about being sick, but I'm happy to be here," said John Woodward, who was homeless when he joined in 1997 and had little access to counseling or health care.

"The denial, the needing of support groups to talk about your condition and what you have been through, it is excellent to have," he said.

For information on The Living Center, call CRT at 860-247-1088.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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