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In a state beset by high housing costs, an infusion of federal money will provide a critical cushion for one of Vermont's most vulnerable populations: low-income people living with HIV/AIDS.

Vermont will receive its fifth three-year grant -- $1,430,000 -- under the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced.

Especially welcome, said Willa Darley Chapin, federal housing program manager for the state's recipient agency, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, is a boost in the number of people who will receive rental housing assistance -- from 28 under the last grant, to 40.

"A huge benefit," agreed Peter Jacobsen, executive director of Vermont CARES, one of four organizations around the state that will collaborate with the board in providing services.

The grant is part of $19,354,450 for housing assistance and support services awarded to 15 states and the Virgin Islands, according to HUD. "These grants are quite literally a lifeline for those struggling to find a decent home while trying to manage complex drug therapies," said Steve Preston, HUD secretary, in a news release.

To be eligible for the assistance, Vermonters must be connected to one of the four support organizations and have incomes less than 80 percent of the area median, Darley Chapin said.

Besides Vermont CARES, based in Burlington, the organizations are AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, IMAMI Health Institute, and ACORN.

In addition to rental assistance for 40 tenants, according to HUD, the grant will provide 171 households with short-term rent, mortgage and utility assistance; and supportive services to 259 people with HIV/AIDS.

The most recent tally by the Vermont Department of Health showed 460 people in Vermont with HIV or AIDS, Jacobsen said. The state is also believed to have about 150 more people who have not reported their condition.

Jacobsen said his organization faces the constant challenge of reaching out to people with HIV or AIDS who might be eligible for free services but who have not made contact with Vermont CARES because they're worried about the stigma.

(burlingtonfreepress.com)

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