HIV-Positive Residents Claim Salvation Army Shelter Is Forcing Them Back Onto the Streets

HIV-positive residents at a Salvation Army shelter in Liberty City claim they are being forced back onto the streets this weekend because of bigotry and budget cuts. Two people living in the charity's command center on 38th Street say they have been told to move out by Monday, insulted by staff, and would have to turn to prostitution if they left the shelter.

"This isn't the first time a lot of us have been on the street. We know what we might have to do," one resident told New Times, referring to prostitution. "They are risking the health of Miami-Dade County by sending us back out there. But what else are we going to do?"

The Salvation Army adamantly denied the allegations of discrimination or insults. But a spokeswoman confirmed that an expiring contract means at least ten residents -- all part of the Here Is Hope program for the HIV-positive -- must move out.

"We are not forcing them out," said Judith Mori, Salvation Army's director of development. "These ten people belong to a specific contract which [has not been renewed].

"As a prevention measure, we are finding new homes for these people," Mori explained. But only five of the ten have found new homes, with only four days remaining. She said there was "no risk" that anyone could end up on the street.

Two HIV-positive residents who contacted New Times, though, say Salvation Army employees aren't just booting them but also insulting them on the way out. (New Times agreed to protect their identities because they feared retaliation.)

"We are already isolated," said one man. "They keep all of the males that are positive in one area, and they keep all the females that are positive in another area."

As the move-out deadline has drawn nearer, however, some Salvation Army lower-level employees (not administrators) have begun mocking the residents, he says.

"They say, 'So what are you going to do when you're back on the street? Huh?'" said the resident. "It's like a show of force. They are using guerrilla tactics, fear tactics, pushing people around in order to get us out."

Another HIV-positive resident agreed.

"There's no 'Good morning.' No 'Hi, how are you doing?'" a female resident said. "When I went to pick up my medicines, they told me: 'You know y'all got to be out.'"

She doesn't just fear selling her body -- and potentially spreading HIV -- but also rekindling her crack addiction.

"They are going to send me right back to where I used to live: the streets," she said. "And it's going to make me go back to doing the things I needed to to survive. Go head and just push me to my death, why don't you?"

Edwin O'Dell, a spokesman for Jackson Health Systems, said he was unaware of any problems at the center. "We've had a very good working relationship with the Salvation Army for many years, and we are not aware of any mass discharge of clients."

Residents say the discharge is only days away. They just want to stay off the streets.

"The seven of us [HIV-positive residents] that are left are working very hard with other organizations to find housing, but we need time," said the male resident.

"It's just the way that this is being handled that angers me," he said. "It's being handled with a complete lack of respect for our conditions and our feelings."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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