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March 17. 2012 11:45PM

Funding cuts threaten HIV/AIDS programs

NASHUA — When Beth Harrington first came to the Granite State from her native Oklahoma — with a job in Massachusetts lined up and a friend to stay with in Amherst — she thought she had everything in place.

But when her housing fell through and she was unable to work, Harrington and her two daughters were just days away being homeless, broke and desperate.

That was when Harrington, 38, found the organization that her life now revolves around: the Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force.

“They've been incredible,” Harrington said. “They're the ones that set me up with a good doctor,” and they're the ones who have provided housing and other services to her over the past five years.

In 2007, Nashua received a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to provide housing for AIDS and HIV patients. The task force has provided 31 people with permanent housing.

A recent study by a group of Greater Nashua social organizations confirmed that there is no homelessness among the area's HIV/AIDS population. In 2006, there were seven cases, but the following year, the task forcewas able to reduce that to zero.

That was when Harrington came to New Hampshire. “The task force has done so much,” she said, “and I think if it hadn't been for them we'd have had to move back to Oklahoma, or we would've had to live in our car or a shelter.”

Harrington suffers from a variety of medical conditions that prevent her from working, leaving her to rely on assistance. But she gives back to the task force by volunteering there 15 hours a week. She also makes presentations at area schools and other organizations.

The task force has a food pantry, psychological counselors on staff and a nutritionist who comes in once a week. Transportation assistance is available to those who need it.

Wendy LeBlanc, assistant director of the task force, said that even though HUD funding is stable, the program's resources have fallen by a third since she started in 1999. This July, a round of federal cuts will force the task force to stop offering free HIV testing.

To continue to provide free HIV testing and retain a position that will be eliminated, the task force needs about $65,000, LeBlanc said. “The task force now relies on private donations more than ever to continue the important work that we do,” she said.

Asked why it was necessary to maintain funding when there are currently no homeless HIV patients in the area, LeBlanc said: “If we didn't have it, they'd lose the housing that they have. We're keeping people housed who otherwise would not be able to maintain or afford their own housing.”

LeBlanc can be contacted at w.leblanc@aidstaskforcenh.org or 595-8464.

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