New Life

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But CAP's slow reaction to change in the past few years and the perceived attitudes of some of the people involved with the organization have had the effect of driving clients away from CAP and toward newer organizations.

Five years ago, Lorenzo Ramirez, program supervisor at Servicios de la Raza, a 29-year-old agency that provides Latinos with substance-abuse and mental-health treatment as well as senior and youth programs, formed La Gente, a program within Servicios for Latinos who are HIV positive. But Ramirez had to fight for five years to create the program. "Our executive director really struggled with taking [HIV] on because of the social and cultural issues," he says. "It's a taboo issue to talk about. Sex is taboo in the Latino community, and to talk about HIV, you need to talk about sex. As a community, we had to talk about homosexuality, too. I told him, 'If we don't deal with this now, we'll have to talk about it later.' We weren't sure people would even come, but within one year, our caseload went from three to sixty.

"Agencies like CAP weren't handling those cases, because they didn't know how to or because they didn't have the cultural competency to reach out to the Latino community," says Ramirez, who served on CAP's board of directors for six years before leaving in August, when his tenure expired. "What they're trying to do is be the agency for everyone and serve people of all backgrounds. I have heard that cultural competency is not there, but the whole notion of cultural competency is a journey. It's not just a workshop you go to and walk out of. It takes time to become culturally competent. They really have their work cut out for them if they want to be the agency for everyone."

Abel Alvarado, the case manager for La Gente, says Latinos with HIV are often too intimidated to go to CAP, which is located on East Colfax Avenue, because it serves a mostly English-speaking clientele in a predominantly white neighborhood. "They're located in a heavily gay area because that's where the infections first started. As long as services are not in the Latino community, Latinos won't get the services," he says. "Even gay Latinos tend to stay in their own neighborhoods. Why should someone in North Denver travel to Capitol Hill?" (CAP does have a clinic in Five Points, a neighborhood that's 43 percent Latino and 25 percent black, according to 2000 census data.)

The People of Color Consortium Against AIDS is another organization that formed in response to the growing number of Latinos and blacks with HIV. It was created in 1990 to provide AIDS-prevention education in different ethnic communities; four years later it started providing case management in response to the growing demand for services from minorities who felt they weren't getting their needs met at CAP, say people who have been involved in that organization. POCCAA started the first support group for black people living with the disease, as well as the first Spanish-speaking HIV/AIDS support group. La Gente also offers a support group for its clients.

The People With AIDS Coalition Colorado, which formed in 1987, went through its own growing pains as it saw its clientele diversify. The PWA Coalition is a minority-based organization, meaning half of its board is made up of people of color. But it wasn't always that way. "We turned our organization around in the last three years because we saw that minorities and women weren't getting the same results [in terms of HIV prevention] as white men, so we figured they weren't getting the same access to services," says executive director Al McKittrick. "We had to unseat the board and start over, and it wasn't fun, because our board president, who was a wonderful man, was also the donor of $50,000 a year. We had to kiss that goodbye. It was most of our budget then.

"We didn't have much of a staff back then," he continues. "But after we shook up the board, we started hiring people of color. Our emphasis in the next year will be in the African-American community, because we haven't reached them as much."

The PWA Coalition pairs clients with peer advocates, who help with everything from finding doctors to getting housing assistance. "If people are having a hard time getting what they need, they come to us," McKittrick says. "We find inconsistencies in every agency and every clinic. We serve many of the people who were disgruntled with the services at CAP or Servicios or POCCAA. Sometimes they have a legitimate complaint, and sometimes, because of their mental-health issues or substance-abuse problems, they're just difficult to work with. What it boils down to is the personality of the client and how they interact with the person who's helping them, more than whether they're black or Latino or white."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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