#NHASeverywhere: Read SMYAL’s Story – Supporting Unhoused LGBTQ+ Youth
Just a few months ago, the HIV community observed National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), which highlights the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people. NYHAAD, observed on April 10, also raises the public’s awareness of HIV prevention, treatment, and care campaigns of young people in the United States. Now, for our next #NHASeverywhere story, HIV.gov is featuring the work of the largest LGBTQ youth housing provider in the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) region. Through their various services, SMYAL exemplifies the work outlined in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and works directly with a target population of the NHAS, young people. Watch Exit Disclaimerthe video featuring SMYAL’s leadership and others to learn more.
More About SMYAL
Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL)Exit Disclaimer is committed to social change. Thus, through youth leadership, the organization empowers and supports LGBTQ+ youth in the DMV area and creates opportunities for them to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community through service and advocacy. One impactful way SMYAL offers critical support to our future leaders is through its youth housing program.
Erin Whelan, SMYAL Executive Director, shared that “SMYAL is a D.C.-based organization that’s been around for almost 40 years. And we work with LGBTQ+ youth and young people doing community building, housing interventions, health services, community outreach, and housing support.”
Supporting Unhoused LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ youth are vastly overrepresented in the unhoused population. Being unhoused prevents people from getting the HIV care and treatment they need. Per the CDC, young people with unstable housing experience up to 12 times greater risk of HIV infection than those with stable housing. Additionally, the CDC notes that transgender and gender non-conforming youth are more likely to experience housing instability or homelessness than cisgender youth. SMYAL, across its youth housing program, works diligently to combat this disproportionate impact.
More than 60 residents who benefit from SMYAL’s housing-specific services receive LGBTQ+-affirming support and individually tailored services as they move through the organization’s three-tiered progress system toward sustainable independence. Each of SMYAL’s programs provide safe and stable shelter, case management services, food, and mental health counseling, among other life-changing support services.
In 2022, SMYAL opened the newest of their housing programs—a transitional housing program in partnership with the DC Department of Health that implements housing services as a structural intervention to prevent HIV/AIDS. The program supports up to eight residents at any given time. Designed to support men who have sex with men ages 25-35, residents are provided with co-case management, health referrals, and PrEP coordinated through both organizations.
“Within the trans and queer community, there [aren’t] often resources and support for the things that we may need on a day-to-day so, often, we fall to the wayside. SMYAL has been on the forefront with their pioneer program to allow people like myself to have access to care and be able to provide stable living for themselves,” said Chris Pinkney, SMYAL Housing Resident.
Alignment with the NHAS
To highlight the amazing work being done in communities across the country to help reach the goals detailed in the NHAS, in Spring 2022, HIV.gov launched #NHASeverywhere, a social media effort to spotlight organizations and their ongoing work in communities that align with the NHAS.
SMYAL’s work aligns with more than one NHAS objective, including Objectives 2.1 and 2.3., due to its work with youth, which is an NHAS-designated priority population. Objective 2.1 aims to link people to care immediately after diagnosis and provide low-barrier access to HIV treatment, and Objective 2.3 is to increase retention in care and adherence to HIV treatment to achieve and maintain long-term viral suppression and provide integrative HIV services for HIV-associated comorbidities, coinfections, and complications, including sexually transmitted infections.
To learn more about the NHAS and its implementation throughout the country, follow our social media channels (FacebookExit Disclaimer, TwitterExit Disclaimer, and InstagramExit Disclaimer) and sign up for updates as HIV.gov will share more stories, like SMYAL’s, from across the country about collective efforts needed to achieve the goals of the NHAS.