The Oxford English Dictionary defines a bridge as “a structure carrying a path across an obstacle.” The House of Mercy Bridge program hopes to satisfy this definition by acting as that structure, assisting people living with HIV in overcoming obstacles creating barriers to stable housing, quality healthcare, and access to benefits and necessary services.
These people, until they become very ill, are often invisible to the system. This “invisible population” usually comes to us in a crisis situation, in need of urgent assistance to mitigate that crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is currently exacerbating this problem, due to lack of employment or income, and creating increased need for resources for food, transportation, and access to healthcare.
The Bridge Program at House of Mercy provides support for clients to handle these immediate needs. By meeting an essential need and establishing a relationship that can offer other resources in the community, we aspire to empower the invisible population with the means to live their best life.
With the support of funding from the NC Healthcare Foundation and AIDS United, the Bridge program has so far helped several clients with groceries, gas, and utility bills. Here are some stories to show how the Bridge Program has impacted the lives of people living with HIV.
One client was working prior to the COVID pandemic at a restaurant. She got sick and was hospitalized. Once she was discharged from the hospital, her job at the restaurant had been eliminated due to the pandemic. She was living with others trying to determine her next steps when she was given information regarding the Bridge Program. I contacted the client and found she was receiving unemployment and had filed for Medicaid and found a place to rent. She expressed her needs were groceries and gas to go to job interviews. She now has a new job, and the gas and groceries got her through until her first paycheck from her new job.
Another client suffered a loss of employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a single mother, her income was $9 per hour while working Monday through Sunday from 8:00am to 2:30pm. She explained that her employment was the only source of income for her and her son. Additionally, she has become sick, further hindering her ability to seek out new employment. She had been able to meet her basic needs with the help of her neighbors and community resources, and the $200 in groceries from the Bridge Program will give her a bit more breathing room as she continues her search for a new job.
We plan to stay in contact periodically with all Bridge clients to offer support and resources to help meet any long-term goals and provide stability in their day to day lives. Through our Bridge Program, House of Mercy will be the path across urgent obstacles, and continue to provide hope, healing, and a home for people living with HIV in our community.