People living with HIV in Los Angeles County face a variety of unmet legal needs, new study shows

For Immediate Distribution
April 2, 2015

Lauren Jow,, 310-206-0314

LOS ANGELES — People living with HIV in Los Angeles County face an array of legal needs that have a significant impact on their access to resources such as income, health care and housing, but most do not receive any legal assistance, according to a new study by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

When provided a list of needs that could be addressed by legal intervention or assistance, 98% of respondents indicated that they had at least one legal need in the year prior to the survey, but a mere 28% sought legal help, and only 16% received help from a lawyer.

Titled “The Legal Needs of People Living with HIV: Evaluating Access to Justice in Los Angeles,” the study analyzes the current legal needs of almost 400 people living with HIV (“PLWH”) in Los Angeles County. Most of the respondents reported being low-income, unemployed and from communities of color.

Different groups among PLWH reported unique needs in different legal issue areas. For example, Latino/a respondents were disproportionately more likely to have immigration needs; sexual and gender minorities frequently reported being subjected to harassment, violent attacks and other crime; and transgender women reported being significantly more likely to have been incarcerated than cisgender women.

Many respondents across all subgroups, however, reported experiencing HIV-based discrimination in housing, employment and health care settings. In the five years prior to the survey, 31% of respondents reported experiencing such discrimination.

“The study findings tell us that low-income people living with HIV in Los Angeles County remain vulnerable as a result of their legal needs. The manifestations of stigma and discrimination have an ongoing impact on multiple aspects of their daily lives,” said Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute.

Key findings of the report include:

• Almost all respondents (98%) said they experienced one of the issues the project identified as a legal need in the year prior to taking the survey, and they experienced an average of six distinct legal needs in four legal issue areas.
• In the year prior to the survey, a large majority of respondents (85%) reported not having a testamentary will and/or an advanced health care directive. The other issue areas most frequently identified by respondents included consumer law (49%), health care access (47%), housing (42%), public benefits (30%), criminal law (28%), discrimination (21%) and immigration law (19%).
• Among the 71% of respondents who reported not seeking legal or other help for their most recent legal need, 26% indicated they did not seek help because they could not afford legal services, and 15% indicated not knowing whom or where to call.
• Among those who sought legal assistance and reported not finding help, 22% reported feeling that it was because the provider was insensitive to their needs as a person living with HIV, and 26% were told by a legal services provider that the provider did not handle that particular area of law.
• When asked about the impact of their most recent legal need on their life, respondents indicated experiencing difficulty carrying on normal life (70%), stress-related illness (59%), physical ill health (25%), difficulty keeping medical appointments (19%), difficulty taking medications (17%) and loss of income or financial difficulty (19%).

The results leave room for key areas of growth:

• PLWH in Los Angeles County need more robust legal services that are affordable and culturally competent.
• Those services should be tailored to address consumer law, health care access and housing matters while taking into consideration the specific legal needs of particularly vulnerable subgroups such as Latinos, transgender women and gay and bisexual men.
• Continuing education on HIV/AIDS issues and law to service providers who serve PLWH in health care, housing, employment, corrections, law enforcement and legal contexts is necessary to reduce the ongoing stigma and discrimination PLWH face.
• More research is necessary to explore the relationship between the presence of legal needs and its impact on the health of PLWH.

“Providers serving people living with HIV in Los Angeles County must continue to focus on the specific legal needs of the HIV-positive community and understand that these needs are as diverse as the communities they serve. We could also benefit from more research to establish best practices for delivering culturally competent legal services to PLWH in Los Angeles County,” said Ayako Miyashita, Brian Belt HIV/AIDS Law and Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute.

In addition to Sears, the study was also conducted by Ayako Miyashita, Brian Belt HIV/AIDS Law and Policy Fellow; Amira Hasenbush, Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow; Bianca Wilson, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy; Ilan Meyer, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy; and Sheila Nezhad, former Public Policy Fellow. Major funding to conduct this study was provided by the Ford Foundation.

For the full report, click here.