While living in Chicago, Justin King bore witness to a heroin epidemic that ripped apart his community. After two close friends died from shooting drugs and several others were infected with HIV, he decided to take action.
“It was a wake-up call,” he said, “and I started seeing how I could help people.”
Today, King, 30, is one of the leaders of our new youth outreach program. Since September, he’s been trekking to Prospect Park, Fulton Mall and the Christopher Street pier, speaking with homeless and at-risk youth about HIV.
King hands out condoms and accompanies individuals to Housing Works clinics, where he offers testing. When he meets kids who know they are HIV-positive, he signs them up for health and supportive services.
As a young gay man himself, he also serves as a role model for youth who’ve been tossed out of their homes and rejected by their communities.
The outreach program, aimed at youth ages 18-24, is urgently needed: Data show that while new HIV infections are falling overall in New York City, they have risen precipitously among young city residents, particularly young black and Latino gay and bisexual men.
“My goal for this program is to end some of the stigma surrounding HIV and homosexuality,” King said. So far, he’s helped a number of young people obtain Medicaid and find permanent housing. “When I see that, I feel like I’ve accomplished part of my goal.”
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