One year after near shutdown, this programme for youth at risk of HIV is bouncing back

Just a year after a lack of funding almost forced it to lock its doors, a drop-in programme for homeless youth who are at high risk of contracting HIV is flourishing.

Every weekday, Youth on Fire on Church Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, welcomes homeless young adults between the ages of 14 and 24.

Part of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Youth on Fire provides daytime basic care and medical services to over 200 young adults every year and has helped over 3,000 youth since its launch in the spring of 2000, including many LGBTQI+ teens.

The programme helps youngsters in Massachusetts.

“We are constantly engaged in trainings to make sure that we are as educated as we can possibly be on a number of things,” Bobby Pappas, a case manager at Youth on Fire, told PinkNews.

“We just had a training last month on working with LGBTQI+ youth and LGBTQI+ youth of colour, and we have a youth advisory board where we talk to them about what’s going on in the space and how we can be better. We want to treat folks the way they want to be treated.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people aged 13-24 made up 21 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2016, making it one of the largest populations affected.

However, they are also are the most likely to be unaware of their infection, with an estimated 44 percent of HIV-positive youth not knowing they have it.

The programme nearly closed down last year.

Youth on Fire offers basic services to help this at-risk population, like hot meals, showers, clothing and laundry, and phone and computer access as well as health services including HIV, STI, and viral hepatitis screenings and mental health counselling.

It also handles cases pertaining to housing, employment, and documentation, working with youth on things like finding an apartment or job to getting a social security card.

Despite its good deeds, the organisation faced closure just a year ago. Last June, Youth on Fire was on the brink of shutting down. But, now, a year on, it is thriving.  

“There was a funding crisis, and fortunately the community and folks who recognise the good work that is being done here got together and advocated for Youth on Fire,” said Pappas.

Harvard Square is seen July 30, 2009 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Darren McCollester/Getty)

The organisation prioritises providing resources and creating opportunities for a population that is prone to victimisation.

“It’s our space, we are a family,” said Pappas. “We want to make sure that we are being the best that we can be.”

Youth on Fire is always looking for volunteers and donations to the programme. More information can be found at on the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts website.