HIV service providers support many legal needs despite few resources, new study shows

For Immediate Distribution
April 19, 2016

Contact:
Lauren Jow, jow@law.ucla.edu, 310-206-0314

LOS ANGELES — Even with limited resources, HIV legal services providers continue to meet a broad set of legal needs in the metropolitan areas with the largest numbers of people living with HIV, according to a new study by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Nevertheless, providers still frequently turn away clients or refer them elsewhere when they are unable to meet certain legal needs, particularly in criminal law matters.

The study, titled “The Legal Needs of People Living with HIV: The Role of HIV Legal Services,” examines data from 14 legal service providers on the legal services they provided from 2010 to 2012 to people living with HIV. In that time period, more than 6,500 people received HIV legal services annually from these 14 HIV services organizations across the country.

“We suspected HIV legal services providers have a difficult task addressing a myriad of legal issues, but we just didn’t know how broad the unmet legal needs continue to be for people living with HIV across the U.S.,” said Ayako Miyashita, Sears Law Teaching Fellow at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and Director of the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project.

Key findings from the report include:

• The largest proportion of agency caseloads were in the areas of public and private benefits (33 percent), housing (20 percent), future planning documents (12 percent), and consumer and tax issues (11 percent).

• The most frequently unmet legal needs were in the areas of criminal law, family law, privacy and confidentiality, discrimination, and incarceration and post-incarceration issues. Only one organization indicated that they provided services to address incarceration or post-incarceration issues.

• Responding agencies reported that 40 to 72 percent of their clients living with HIV were gay and bisexual men, and .01% to 7% identified as transgender.

• The median figures for clients’ race/ethnicity largely reflected the racial/ethnic breakdown of individuals recently diagnosed with HIV in the United States. Almost all of the agencies reported that the majority of their clients were people of color.

Public benefits, the most frequently assisted area of legal need, has a direct impact on financial stability, which impacts one’s ability to have and maintain stable housing. In turn, unstable housing can have a direct impact on stress and mental and physical health.

Funding priorities need to be reassessed to ensure that legal needs pertaining to criminalization and incarceration are addressed given that inmates in state and federal prisons are five times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This study was co-authored by Miyashita and Amira Hasenbush, Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute.

Click here for the full report.