AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) held its annual meeting and awards ceremony, "Innovation Through Action," March 4 via Zoom. (It was virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.)
AFC President/CEO John Peller said that although much has changed in the past year, AFC's "commitment to innovation has not," citing the organization's COVID-19 response, systemic racism and whatever political shifts occur.
"Housing is healthcare and everyone deserves a home, regardless of a pandemic," he said.
Peller also spoke about AFC's efforts to advance health equity, including launching the HIV Resource Hub last February with the Center on Halsted. He said that the hub provided rent and emergency payments to 412 people and helped 720 people permanent housing, among other assistance. Peller highlighted AFC's case management efforts, the Getting to Zero initiative, PrEP conversations and Pride Action Tank's work. In terms of diversifying AFC's ranks, Peller said 50 percent of board members are people of color.
Speaking about AFC's COVID-19 response, AFC Chief Programs Officer Simone Koehlinger said the organization expanded its outreach with food support, including food vouchers for 698 clients, grocery deliveries to 259 clients and meals for 80 clients.AFC also helped 208 people living with HIV who were released from jail or prison due to overcrowding find healthcare, PPE, housing and employment.
Other initiatives Koehlinger highlighted included tripling the amount of emergency funds to pay for people's rent and utilities, launching the hotel to home program to provide temporary housing for 65 people and families until more permanent arrangements could be located and increased staff support for employees who were adjusting to new work conditions both at home and in the office.
AFC Race and Social Justice Committee Co-Chair Luricela Arguello spoke about the racial equity and justice initiatives that were done this past year including commissioning a Race Equity Action Plan that will be implemented this year.
"Grant making, recruiting, retaining and promoting BIPOC staff as well as addressing pay disparities and other organizational programs and policies" will be the focus of this year's work within AFC, said Arguello. She added that ending white supremacy is now a primary aspect of AFC's ethos in all of its communication and programming efforts.
Arguello also recognized the Black cisgender and transgender people who died due to police brutality in 2020.
Center for Housing and Health (CHH) Board Chair Kuliva Wilburn spoke about a client named Robin and her infant son who got access to CHH's flexible housing pool. Robin now has an apartment and other financial support due to CHH's help.
Additionally, CHH Executive Director and Vice President of Housing Peter Toepfer spoke about the organization's COVID-19 response including moving participants into vacant hotel rooms, providing cell phones with data plans and food delivery.
AFC honored property owner and landlord Trent Anderson with its Center for Housing and Health Award while the Impact Award was bestowed upon University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health Community Health Sciences Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr. Mildred Williamson.
Toepfer presented Anderson with his award while Peller gave Williamson her award.
Anderson spoke about the importance of stable housing, and lauded AFC and CHH for its work in his acceptance speech.
Williamson said her journey has been intertwined with AFC's. She praised AFC's work toward achieving racial equity and the outreach the organization has done with transgender people of color.
AFC Vice President of Prevention and Community Partnerships Dr. Cynthia Tucker presented Brave Space Alliance with the Innovation Award and AFC External Relations Chief Officer Edward Wagner gave BMO Harris Bank the Inspiration Award.
Accepting the Innovation Award was Brave Space Alliance Founder and Executive Director LaSaia Wade, who said her organization will continue to fight and thrive in the current political climate. BMO Harris Bank Chicago North Regional President and AFC Treasury and Finance Chair Anthony Tintinalli accepted the Inspiration Award and highlighted his bank's "zero barriers to inclusion."
Peller and Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt hosted an after-party on Instagram live featuring a wide-ranging conversation and audience Q&A.
To view AFC and CHH's annual reports, visit 2020.aidschicago.org/ and housingforhealth.org/ .