Why HVCS Needs You: A Case for Support

“They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

That’s how Dawn Carney ended her speech at Hudson Valley Community Services’ thirtieth anniversary celebration. We asked Dawn, who has been an HVCS client since the mid-1990’s, to share her experiences with our core supporters. She had the courage to openly discuss her past, during which she experienced substance abuse, addiction, HIV, depression, and heartbreak. She even mentioned her suicide attempts.

But through it all, she says, she always found a caring ear, personalized support, and genuine empathy from employees at HVCS. Now she works for us as a peer navigator. Dawn uses her life experience to help new clients with the complexities of the healthcare system. She is now the one who believes in others who have lost faith in the system and have given up hope.

“It takes special people to do this kind of work and I thank HVCS with all my heart for being there for me,” she said.

Being there. Sometimes the best thing we can do for those in need is simply to be there. To believe in a better, healthier future even when they don’t. To listen. To understand their issues—and know the environment well enough to craft a plan for support  that can provide a better quality of life.

We were able to be there for Dawn and watch her grow because we’ve been here, for over thirty years now. It’s that kind of longevity and experience in the Hudson Valley’s healthcare and service environment that make the difference in a client’s life. We believe in helping the entire person—not one aspect of their health, but body, mind, family, and community. And we believe in empowering clients to take an active role in their healthcare and become even better advocates for people living with chronic illnesses.

Donate to HVCS and join our mission.

Vision

 We envision the Hudson Valley as a place where all people, regardless of socio-economic status, live healthy lives and have access to the coordinated care they need to maintain their health. And by health, we mean all aspects: physical, mental, social and self-worth. A healthy Hudson Valley connects people living with serious, long-term illnesses with a wide variety of support systems to optimize their health and wellbeing, from great nutrition to access to services, freedom from the debilitating effects of substance abuse to eliminating the stigma that co-infects those with HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, and other diseases. The healthy Hudson Valley we picture is one in which underserved, disenfranchised communities cease to lag behind their more affluent neighbors on all health indices.

We envision:

  • A Hudson Valley with zero new HIV infections and greatly reduced sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates.
  • A Hudson Valley in which racial and ethnic minorities are not disproportionately affected by HIV.
  • A Hudson Valley in which gay and bisexual men (and men who sleep with other men but do not identify with the gay community) join the number of communities where HIV rates are actually decreasing.
  • A Hudson Valley in which no family goes hungry.
  • A Hudson Valley in which everyone can afford adequate, safe housing and no one is prevented from renting an apartment in the region due to their economic status.
  • A Hudson Valley free from the scourge of heroin and prescription drug abuse.
  • A Hudson Valley that prioritizes substance abuse treatment for those who need it.
  • A Hudson Valley in which everyone has access to the medical care they need without fear of financial ruin.
  • A Hudson Valley with a vibrant network of diverse communities helping each other.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Areas of Need

Though we at HVCS see ourselves as part of a broad coalition of organization, governments, and individuals working towards a healthy Hudson Valley, there are several obstacles, both concrete and societal, that stand in the way of this vision.

HIV Prevention

Challenge

HVCS began with a focus on ending HIV infection and caring for people living with AIDS in the region, and after more than thirty years into the epidemic, the factors that place certain communities at high risk for HIV/AIDS remain the same. True, there have been many advances in HIV care, and infection rates in the Hudson Valley have been dropping slowly. While we herald this progress, it has also produced a sense of apathy in the general public, and a mistaken feeling that “AIDS is already over.” We cannot pull back on the fight against HIV/AIDS prematurely, when there is still significant work to be done.

Gay and bisexual men (especially those under the age of 30) still account for the majority of new HIV infections, followed by African-Americans and Hispanics at greatly disproportionate rates compared to population. The tools to bring new HIV infections to zero are at hand: we’re strong advocates for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and scientific evidence continues to prove that those living with HIV who are virally suppressed (with no HIV detectable in their blood thanks to medication) cannot pass on their infection. We need to get this life-saving information to those at the highest risk—and we constantly battle community apathy.

Our HIV prevention programs operate on shoestring budgets with very little room for innovation, outreach, or awareness-raising. We cannot successfully operate these programs on the amounts provided by government funders, especially when budgets remain fixed while the cost of HIV, STI and hepatitis C test kits continues to rise. Due to the price increase, we have been forced to test only those at highest risk for infection. Thus, when someone outside of those categories comes to us for testing, we must refer them to another agency. And when someone is finally ready for testing, it’s in their best interest to provide the test right away instead of making the process more difficult. With more funds, we can provide free HIV, STI and hepatitis C tests to any and all who come to us.

To truly beat HIV—to meet our goal of zero new HIV cases—we need to continue to fund our HIV prevention programs at effective levels. We need to see this race to the finish, not slow to a crawl mere yards from the finish line.

Plan

With additional financial support, our HIV prevention programs will be able to purchase HIV, STI and hepatitis C test kits and still be able to afford incentives to encourage people to get tested. With even more help, we will be able to expand our services and be able to test anyone who comes to us, without the need to screen for their risk level. We want to be the experts on HIV/AIDS in the Hudson Valley, and we believe that we should be a prime resource for HIV testing.

Funds will also be used to promote our prevention programs to those who need to hear our message. We will spread the word about the availability of PrEP for HIV prevention and raise awareness of our programs and services through media campaigns.

Cost

We estimate that our HIV prevention programs need an additional $60,000 each year to maintain and expand services to adequately protect vulnerable communities in the Hudson Valley.

  • Services for young gay and bisexual men of color: $23,000
  • Regional Prevention Initiative: $16,000
  • Program incentives: $1,000
  • Targeted public health awareness campaign: $20,000

DONATE TO SUPPORT HVCS’ HIV PREVENTION PROGRAMS

Food & Nutrition

Challenge

There is ample research to show that proper nutrition is the foundation for improved health outcomes. Lack of consistent, quality nutrition is an ongoing and persistent issue for many of our clients. Sometimes, a client and their family cannot afford enough food to stave off hunger, while in other cases, they are not eating the right kinds of food for their medical condition—or the food they can afford is worsening their health: food that is high in sugar, fat, and empty calories. Our food and nutrition programs can help them ward off hunger, eat healthier, and improve their overall health.

However, these programs have been consistently underfunded or depend entirely on private contributions. We have offered our emergency food closets at all of our offices since 1991 and they are 100% supported by non-government donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. Since it is an independent program, we can provide services to all clients—and another important feature is that these closets help feed the clients’ families (collaterals) as well. With unpredictable funding, the amount of food we distribute (and the assistance we can provide clients) can vary greatly. We often have to impose limits on the number of food bags clients take so that we can budget resources to serve people in the greatest need. We aim to grow, stabilize and regularize the emergency food closets’ budget so that we can open the food closets to any and all clients in need.

The THRIVES (To Help Renew and Improve Vitality and Enhance Self-Sufficiency) program is a nutrition education program for our HIV-positive clients. Its overall goal is to teach clients how to eat well for their particular health concerns, and we do that through workshops and shopping trips. It’s as hands-on a nutrition program as you can find, and far more robust than a typical food pantry. This makes it a very successful program that clients definitely want to join, but funding is currently capped—which means that we typically have a long waiting list. Additional funds would enable us to hire more staff and purchase more high-quality foods so we can reduce the waiting list and provide more people with personalized nutrition services.

The first line of defense against hunger is SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and in three of our most rural counties—Orange, Sullivan and Ulster—HVCS operates NOEP (Nutrition Outreach and Education Program), which helps people sign up for SNAP. Since we received the contract, NOEP has been underfunded with fully twenty percent of the program funded through agency or foundation donations and grants. HVCS has had to kick in a significant portion of funds to operate the program successfully. Without additional support from private donations, NOEP will continue to siphon fundraised resources, and we certainly do not want to abandon a program that provides such a foundational service to people in need from all walks of life.

Plan

With more financial support, we will expand our emergency food closet both in terms of its depth (by offering higher quality foods, more fresh produce, and partnering with local farms and CSAs) and scope (by serving more clients). We will also purchase more toiletries and household cleaning products—expensive items that clients cannot get at other food pantries. We will offer more nutritional workshops and assessments for our non-THRIVES clients.

We also want to provide transportation services to get clients to and from the supermarket and local farmers’ markets. We also aim to buy CSA shares in local farms.

For THRIVES clients, we will also be able to enhance the distributed food bags and hire an additional staff member so that we can cut the waiting list.

And for NOEP, additional funds will enable us to sustain the program for several more years without straining the rest of our programs and services.

Cost

We estimate that our food and nutrition programs need $173,000 each year to operate at full capacity.

  • NOEP currently operates at a $30,000 deficit each year
  • THRIVES needs additional food and supplies totaling $23,000 each year
  • Hiring an additional staff person for THRIVES: $48,000 per year
  • Funding for Emergency Food Closets: $62,000 per year
  • Expanded toiletry and household cleaning product offerings: $10,000

DONATE TO HVCS’ FOOD & NUTRITION PROGRAMS

Substance Abuse & Opioid Addiction

Challenge

HVCS operates two van-based substance abuse and HIV prevention programs: Project Reach Out (PRO), which covers all seven counties, and the Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) in Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster. The latter is the first and only syringe exchange program in the Mid-Hudson region. These programs perform vital work in the substance use community: building trust, making referrals to detox and drug treatment, removing used syringes from the community, and preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. SEP also offers Narcan training and supplies to prevent deaths by opioid overdose, and the program actively saves, on average, three to five lives each month.

The government contracts that fund these programs are consistently short-funded and even that amount never increases. PRO does not have enough funds to offer any kind of program incentives that establish trust and engage a difficult-to-reach population. Funding for our Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) is even tighter, as we have more staff on the program than the budget can fully support. We need those additional staff members, however, because we need at least two staff members on each of the two outreach vans—for safety’s sake and to serve more people. Adequately funding the proper amount of staff members means that we can reach more people, provide more trainings, and distribute more Narcan kits.

On top of that, there’s the additional expense of maintaining a small fleet of mobile prevention vans, fuel costs, and travel time. These programs are doing critical work to combat the rise of heroin and opioid addiction—one of the Hudson Valley’s most pressing public health problems—and literally give people a second chance at life. Without more support, the PRO and SEP vans will need to travel to fewer areas and serve fewer people. We cannot let them shrink now, when opioids continue to threaten our region.

Plan

Bolstering our substance abuse and opioid addiction prevention programs will enable us to keep our four vans fully operational. We won’t need to lose any days of service due to mechanical issues. We will also offer more incentives for going to referred services, detox and drug treatment. PRO works with many homeless clients, and we will be able to offer them more meal kits, toiletries and incentives which help build trust with the PRO workers. Additional resources will also help cover the rising costs of HIV/STI/Hepatitis C test kits.

Cost

We estimate that we need an additional $70,000 per year to successfully support our substance abuse prevention programs.

  • Syringe Exchange Program expenses: $50,000 per year
  • Project Reach Out programmatic expenses: $20,000 per year

DONATE TO HVCS’ SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROGRAMS

Why Now?

We must remain vigilant if we are ever to truly turn the tide against public health problems that are now ravaging the most vulnerable communities of the Hudson Valley. As one epidemic begins to retreat, another advances—but we cannot give up the fight until these persistent public health problems are defeated.

Governor Cuomo has called for zero new HIV infections in New York State by 2020, and while it is true that HIV infection rates are falling among many communities, we must not give up now with real change in sight. Backing off from effective, proven HIV prevention strategies now not only fails to hasten the end of the AIDS epidemic, but endangers a new generation. Many young people—especially young gay, bisexual and questioning men—have grown up without seeing or learning about the first wave of the AIDS epidemic. They didn’t have to watch friends, partners and family members die from opportunistic infections. The irony is that as health outcomes for HIV-positive people improved, HIV prevention messages diminished, leaving another generation vulnerable to the ravages of this disease.

HIV prevention is also an economic issue. Public health officials estimate that the lifelong cost of treating each case of HIV totals more than $1 million. As with many aspects of health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. The more cases of HIV we prevent, the more we all save on overall healthcare costs.

It is up to community-based groups with years of experience, like HVCS, to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, and it starts with empowering those at high risk with knowledge and awareness. Funding our HIV prevention programs means that we can actualize the goal of “ending the epidemic” and save hundreds of Hudson Valley residents from a lifetime of living with a still incurable disease.

While we’re about to win the fight against HIV, we’re on the losing side in the battle against opioid addiction and overdoses. The number of opioid overdose deaths has risen over 75% since 2003, and in some counties, the rate is even higher. Even Putnam County, one of the smallest counties in the state, has seen a recent spike in heroin deaths: fifteen in the first few months of 2017 alone. Factor in the risks of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C for injection drug users, and the cost is even higher. We need to mobilize all efforts now to treat opioid addiction as a public health problem, not a failure of personal morals. Empowering evidence-based solutions like syringe exchange and Narcan training and distribution—and encouraging substance users to seek treatment—leads to healthier communities, intact families and individuals who get another chance.

We look at our clients as whole people: we address their most immediate needs first, knowing that stabilizing their lives is the best way to maximize their health and quality of life. Though a client may come to us with an urgent medical need, we do all we can to support their overall health—and food and nutrition are usually the first place to start (followed by their housing situation). Without our emergency food closets, our clients would need to make another trip to a different organization, often at their own expense (on household budgets that are tissue-thin). We are the only food closet that stocks toiletries and household cleaners, and the only one that offers transportation services. Without support, these programs offer less and less food and supplies, and serve fewer clients. And the THRIVES waiting lists will persist unless we bolster its staffing and food budget. Without these critical programs, HVCS will be left without an excellent trust-builder and clients’ families will be hungrier.

Call to Action

 You can help us put an end to new HIV infections, more opioid and other drug addictions (and overdoses), and help your neighbors get the nutrition they need to stay healthy. Here’s how you can get involved.

  • Make a financial contribution to Hudson Valley Community Services in a variety of ways:
    • Make a personal donation
    • Commit to a monthly donation subscription
    • Host a third-party fundraising event to collect funds and raise awareness
    • Consider leaving a lasting gift to HVCS in your estate plan
    • Attend one of our special fundraising events
  • Donate food, toiletries, or household cleansers to our emergency food closets
  • Organize a food, toiletry or household cleanser drive for our emergency food closets
  • Volunteer at one of our special events or join an event planning committee

To make a financial contribution, visit www.hudsonvalleycs.org/donate or contact us at (914) 785-8326 or jdewey@hudsonvalleycs.org.