On OUT, an article that looks at young, homeless men for who contracting AIDS is a change for the better. In a sick twist of irony, the only way for them to obtain help and services is to actually make themselves sick.
After years of homelessness and a day-to-day existence, Fortner, now 28, was faced with the tantalizing prospect of a place to sleep, regular meals, and more thorough New York City services provided to people who reach a certain stage of the disease. First he would have to meet their diagnosis requirements; then he would receive help.
"I didn't know about the services," he says. "I didn't know that once you have AIDS you're entitled to all this other stuff."
That silver lining was a surprise to Fortner. And while it might seem counterintuitive, contracting the virus has made life easier for other young homeless men in New York City, who in return for developing full--blown AIDS gain a roof over their heads and basic services.
This cruel paradox - having to get really sick in order to enjoy a better, more comfortable life - has not gone unnoticed. "I have experienced people [who are] grateful that they have HIV," says Sage Rivera, a research associate at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has worked with hundreds of LGBT youth. "It's sort of like a sigh of relief or an extra boost," he says. "There are a whole bunch of different names for HIV within the [LGBT] community: 'the monster,' 'the kitty,' 'the scratch,' 'the gift that keeps on giving.' So people say, 'I have the kitty - so now I can get my place. Now I can get hooked up; I can get my food stamps, I can get this, I can get that.'
"Other people say, 'I do not know what I would have done without the monster.' I can think of five boys, automatically, who've told me this."
And it's not just those who already have AIDS who view it as a lifeline; some young men who test negative aspire to contract the disease as a way out of trouble. Rivera knows at least one man who planned to have unprotected sex on purpose, an attitude he sums up thus: "My life is not getting better. I need a helping hand, and it seems like the only way I can get a helping hand is by getting sick."
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