In the back of a skid row community health center, a woman with teardrop tattoos under her eyes begins to tell her story.
To a circle of other women, she says she ran away from home and joined a gang at 13. She started injecting PCP, and as a teen spent time in jail. By 22, she worked as a prostitute. At 37, she was diagnosed with HIV.
Now 50, the woman known as Hilda tells the circle that the only time she took her HIV medication was when she was in jail. “Why?” someone asks. “I wanted to die,” she answers.
Welcome to a weekly support session sponsored by the Ladies of Diversity, a federally funded program that works to give HIV-positive homeless women of color a reason to stay connected to medical services. Leaders allowed the Los Angeles Times to attend one gathering on the condition that clients be identified only by their first names.
The organization aims to better understand the challenges that keep infected black and Latina women from connecting to HIV care, said Tina Henderson, an HIV/AIDS researcher for 20 years and the program manager of the Ladies of Diversity.
California is one of eight states where such a project has been given money by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
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