Starting Over

Jun 3, 2016 | by Kathy Lovin

“As a correctional officer in Florida I dealt with a lot of [HIV] positive people in prison but I never really knew too much about it.

I never knew what HIV was; I’d heard about it, like I’m sure many people have, just heard about it. But it’s something that happens to everyone else, not to me. Until it did happen to me.

Step-by-step The Salvation Army Alegria was there for me. They were there to make sure that I had my medications, that I had food to eat.

I am forty-two years old and I’ve never known anyone who would give me two years of free rent to get on my feet and decide what to do with my future. That was a wonderful thing for me, especially being in a new city and not having family here.

I was pretty much starting all over again.

Usually, other people are stigmatizing you and placing you in a box but at The Salvation Army, they’re actually welcoming you, embracing you. People think, ‘gosh, I can’t use the same bathroom as this person or eat from the same plates or have any type of casual contact.’

You can find yourself very lonely. It can be a very scary time in your life.

But here [at The Salvation Army’s Alegria], I’ve met so many wonderful people who have let me feel like a human being that I am; not like a number or statistic but me. They embraced me.

It could happen to anybody.

I applied for a job as an HIV health educator. I really enjoy empowering women, educating them and helping to eliminate the stigmas that exist in society about HIV.

I feel like I got my power back; that which someone meant to try to hurt and destroy me actually ended up being a big blessing in my life.

It’s pushed me and motivated me even more.Now I’m on my feet. I have my jewelry business. I empower women. I’m helping because somebody gave me the opportunity to get on my feet.

I have nothing but respect for The Salvation Army.”

Editor’s note:

Saira’s story is not unusual. Fleeing a relationship that left her hurting and infected with HIV, she needed to start over somewhere safe. She came to Los Angeles with her kids and found The Salvation Army’s Alegria. She’s received support from the caring and loving staff in a judgement-free environment where her diagnosis is well-understood.

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In the mid 1990s, The Salvation Army opened a residential program in downtown Los Angeles specifically for homeless individuals and families struggling with an HIV or AIDS diagnosis.

Now, the expanded program called Algeria, is located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. There are 16 residential care apartments and 28 townhomes for permanent/long-term housing on site. In addition, there are another 18 units of emergency housing available at Zahn, the original downtown location.

Beyond the primary goal of providing professional, supportive, case-managed housing for homeless families with health challenges, Alegria and Zahn strive to provide holistic services that help residents live hopeful, dignified lives free of the painful stigmas attached to homelessness or their diagnoses. Residents also receive training and counseling in parenting, budgeting, employment, literacy and so much more — all in an effort to give them the best shot at a future.

If you would like to make a financial gift to support the great work being done at Alegria or Zahn, please click the button below for a link to their secure site.

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