AIDS at 30 (Summer 2011)

It is now 30 years since the onset of the AIDS epidemic. While some things have gotten much better, we still have a long way to go to ensure access to care for all who need it.

I arrived in San Francisco to attend law school right around the time that the AIDS Legal Referral Panel had its initial stirrings. In those days, ALRP chiefly consisted of a handful of attorneys willing to rush to the hospital to help draft a will. AIDS was a new phenomenon but already the fear was tangible and overwhelming. There was no test for HIV
and there was little treatment available. Within a short time, initiatives to quarantine people with AIDS were on the ballot.

My partner and I recently saw the devastating film Life, Above All about a South African girl’s struggle to keep her family together. The girl watches as her mother, sick from AIDS, is banished from their home. She battles desperately against fear and ignorance to bring her mother back home to die surrounded by family. The spirit of this young girl reminds me of the community response in San Francisco in the early days of the epidemic. When young men and women were abandoned by their families, some tough folks fought back and cared for the dying. ALRP’s volunteer attorneys were right there too, helping people keep their homes and jobs, provide guardians for their children, and die with dignity.

Through the years, ALRP has handled over 60,000 legal matters for our clients, and the requests for legal help continue to flood our doorstep. Last year, ALRP’s Panel attorneys donated over $1.5 million in legal services. However, we need even more attorneys to handle a growing number of cases in the areas of insurance, housing, bankruptcy, and immigration.

There is still no cure for AIDS, and more people are living with HIV/AIDS than ever before. Our work is not over. But with ALRP’s committed staff and volunteers making a difference every day in the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, we intend to be there for the duration of the epidemic.

Bill Hirsh, Esq.
ALRP Executive Director