How The Stigma of HIV Can Linger and Keep People from Care


Lenworth Poyser (left) works with a colleague at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Poyser is a health educator for a project focused on reaching young, gay men of color who are HIV-positive. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Lack of health insurance isn’t the only barrier to getting medical care. The stigma and fear around HIV can keep people from seeking help. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, we hear from Lenworth Poyser. He was homeless and living with HIV. Now, Poyser helps young HIV-positive men support each other through a group at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. 

By Lenworth Poyser

When I first came out, when I was still in Texas, I left my mother’s house. At the time I was 18. What she was basically saying is: You can be in this house, just don’t be gay in this house. And I couldn’t do it. So, I threw my clothes into a trash bag and got out.

My sister had invited me to move out to L.A., move out to L.A. And, when HIV hit, I was like, “Oh, life is too short.” So, I decided to just do it. Continue reading

Homeless Woman Grateful for Support She Finds in Her Pet


For the past two years, Kelly Hall, 42, has been homeless, living on the streets of San Francisco with her 7-year-old dog, Olivia. Hall says Olivia is her sole source of emotional support. (Credit: Mark Rogers Photography)

Editor’s Note: The unconditional love of a pet can help people facing some of life’s toughest challenges. After losing her job five years ago, Kelly Hall found herself homeless. She turned to her dog, Olivia, for comfort. Hall says her first night sleeping on the streets was “terrifying”– she was afraid for her safety and worried about surviving the cold. Pets can benefit the mental health of the homeless but keeping these animals healthy can also be a challenge.

As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing stories from homeless Californians. We meet up with Hall as she has Olivia’s arthritis checked out at a mobile veterinary clinic called VET SOS, a free service for homeless pet owners in San Francisco. She starts off by describing Olivia’s breed.

By Kelly Hall

She’s a dachshund-chihuahua-terrier mix. She weighs 13-pounds.

I would be so lonely without her. I cannot even imagine being homeless and not having a dog with me, or my best friend with me. Especially because I’m the type of person too, I’m a bit of a loner. I go to school. I try to keep to myself, and so she really is my only friend and my only support system.

Continue reading

Homeless and Addicted — Then Overcoming Both


Julie “Jewels” Gates (from Berry Creek, Calif., left) and Elena Wilson (from Oroville, Calif., right) saw jail as a one of the few options for low-income people in Butte County to stop using drugs. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For over a year, we’ve been bringing you first-person stories about health. Now, we’re digging deeper. Each month, we’ll be exploring a different health issue and asking diverse community members across the state to share their own stories on that theme. It’s a project we’re calling “Vital Signs.”

This month we look at the health needs of people who are homeless. Accurate statistics on homeless Californians are hard to get, but by some estimates roughly one in four people who are homeless abuse drugs. And homeless people face unique challenges when trying to quit.

Today we hear from Julie Gates and Elena Wilson. The two met seven years ago in Chico. Both women struggled with addiction and Gates, who goes by the nickname “Jewels,” sold drugs to support her own habit. In largely rural Butte County, it was hard for them to find treatment they could afford and were daunted by months-long waiting lists for help. Now clean and sober, the two women volunteer at the Hope Center in Oroville, giving back to the homeless community. They talk to one another about their journey.

By Julie Gates and Elena Wilson

ELENA WILSON: Jewels and I, there were periods of time we didn’t see each other but either at the lowest of out lows, and now, at the highest of our highs, God has brought our paths back together.

JULIE GATES: Absolutely.

WILSON: The last time I had seen her before I got clean, I was acutally kicking heroin in Chico. I was homeless. I was really, really sick. And I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t find any heroin. She went and bought me a pack of cigarettes and gave me a little bit of some methanphetamine to do with, to trade, or whatever. She said she’d try to find me some pills.

Continue reading