August 15, 2018

Posted on by Joy Mosenfelder

As service providers, we at Victory Programs work daily with people who are struggling to make life sustaining decisions in the face of heartbreaking challenges.

Yesterday and today, we were witness to an example of the unfortunate consequences that sometimes happen when resources are scarce yet need is great. Individuals living in storage units, right across the street from our administrative offices on Massachusetts Avenue, were removed  due to legitimate safety concerns. Workers from the City of Boston were on site to offer assistance attempting to connect displaced individuals with services as needed.

The challenges people on the streets outside our windows face every day are often so much more complicated than simply having a place to sleep at night. Some individuals can’t, or won’t sleep in the shelters for various reasons. Many homeless individuals have a history of significant trauma, chronic chaotic substance use, fear of abuse, crave privacy, or other challenges many of us can’t begin to fathom.

At Victory Programs, our dedicated team of more than 200 staff members strives every day to stand next to these people and work with them on creative, safer solutions to whatever they are facing.

The Boston housing crisis is national news. At the moment, the average rent for an 815 square foot apartment is more than $3,000 a month or $36,240 a year. An individual on a fixed income makes about $9,000 a year. Even with a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, someone working full time will only make $31,200 a year. For so many people, the math on finding affordable, market-rate housing just doesn’t work out.

In the past few years, the City of Boston and their partners have housed 580 formerly chronically homeless individuals and 800 veterans. Boston has the lowest percent of unsheltered people (people on the street or in situations unfit for human habitation like storage units) of any urban center. Our organization and others like us will continue to work with the city to do what we can to address homelessness in Boston, however, this crisis didn’t happen overnight. It won’t be solved overnight. And until it is solved we will continue to see individuals with limited resources and few options making choices many of us can’t comprehend because that is what they need to do to take care of themselves.

Sarah Porter, Chief Operations Officer, Victory Programs

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Modifying Recovery to Meet the Needs of Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Posted on by Joy Mosenfelder

Recently, staff at Victory House, one of Victory Programs’ five residential recovery programs, underwent training to learn how to better screen recovery clients for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and how best to respond to challenges specific to the disorder. While not everyone with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder will also develop substance use disorders, children born with the disorder are more likely to wind up misusing substances than the general public. Those with the disorder also frequently exhibit cognitive symptoms such as learning disabilities or mental health issues that impact their ability to follow directions or comply with rules and present a unique challenge in a recovery setting.

Staff who participated in the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder training included Kathy Crehan, Director of Strategic Initiatives: Ryan McCallister, Program Director at Victory House; Kayla Davis, Clinical Director of Recovery Homes; Christine Arismendi, Senior Counselor; Dominique Delucia, Substance Use Disorder Counselor; and Dan Moss, Substance Use Disorder Counselor. They learned how to use the screening tool to effectively identify clients who may be struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and skills to work with these individuals to improve their chances of successfully completing a residential recovery program.

The training emphasized the need to communicate instructions and develop realistic goals for individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This includes simplifying directions into single-step instructions, providing clear expectations, and not getting frustrated when the same behavior reoccurs after it has already been addressed. Staff were able to tie much of what they learned to Victory Programs’ core values as emphasized by the “Standards of Excellence” which emphasizes individualized treatment and attention to client needs.

“At Victory House, our goal is to modify treatment for individuals with an Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder so they can successfully complete our program.  We are happy to make adjustments to meet the needs of individuals who are living with both Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and a substance use issue.” 

– Ryan McCallister, Program Director, Victory House

To learn more about our recovery services please click here

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Myths vs. Truths about HIV, Hepatitis C, and STIs

Posted on by Joy Mosenfelder

Guest blog written by Rachel Kirsh, Intern, Victory Programs’ Mobile Prevention Team

 

Myth Truth

HIV

You can tell someone has HIV just by looking at them. HIV can exist in the body for more than a decade without showing signs or symptoms. The only way to know if you are infected is to get tested.

 

HIV is no longer a threat in the USA, only in other countries. The number of people living with HIV in the USA has increased over the past decade, however, an estimated 1 in 8 individuals is unaware they have the infection.

 

There’s no way I could be infected. I don’t need to get tested. HIV Screening is recommended for all adults, adolescents, and pregnant women. What you don’t know could hurt you and those you care about.

 

Monogamous people don’t get HIV. If I only have one partner I’m safe. Unless you are 100% certain that both you and your partner are HIV negative, monogamy is no guarantee.

 

Only men who have sex with men get HIV. HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluid, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. High-risk categories for contracting HIV include: people who exchange sex for money or drugs, people who have penetrative sex with multiple partners and are not regularly tested between partners, people who use non-prescription injection drugs, people who have recently had an STI.

 

My annual checkup includes an HIV test. Many practitioners only include HIV screening in annual check-ups when it is requested.

 

I’m old enough I don’t have to worry about HIV. New HIV infections are on the rise in older Americans.

 

They test my blood when I donate. Blood donors are not always informed when their blood tests positive.

 

I can’t live with the results. If you are positive, you can’t live without knowing. Not knowing puts you and those you love in greater danger.

 

STIs

 

You can get herpes from a toilet seat Herpes simplex is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact. Unless you are sharing a toilet seat with another person you are not going to get Herpes from the toilet.

 

My pap smear is also an STI test. Pap exams don’t include testing for sexually transmitted infections.

 

You cannot get an STI through anal or oral sex, only vaginal. Any sex which involves an exchange of bodily fluids can lead to an STI infection, including anal and oral.

 

Getting an STI test is painful and embarrassing. Most STI testing can be done with a simple urine sample. Some tests may also involve a blood sample, visual exam for signs of infection, or a small genital swab.

 

Oral contraception protects against STIs. Oral contraception is only effective at preventing pregnancy. It does not protect the user from sexually transmitted infections.

 

STIs will go away on their own. Most STIs do not go away on their own. Additionally, delaying treatment puts the infected individual at greater risk for more serious complications.

 

Hepatitis C

 

Hepatitis C is incurable. Not only can Hepatitis C be effectively treated, it can in face be cured. “Cured” means that the virus cannot be detected in a formerly infected person’s blood months after treatment has ended.

 

There is no way to reduce the risk of getting Hepatitis C. You can reduce the risk of becoming infected with Hepatitis C by taking the proper precautions, including: avoiding sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, needles or other personal care items that may have come into contact with infected blood.

 

You need to be substance free for six-months prior to being treated for Hepatitis C. Massachusetts State Law requires insurance companies to pay for Hepatitis C treatment regardless of whether or not the patient is using substances.

 

If someone’s been re-infected, they cannot be treated again. People who are re-infected can absolutely receive treatment again. However, it may be wise to speak to a medical provider about prevention.

 

People live with Hepatitis C for years without any harm. Even though an infected individual might not notice the effects, the Hepatitis C virus starts attacking the liver as soon as it enters the body. The sooner an infected individual gets treatment, the better their health outcomes are likely to be.

 

An antibody test can tell me if I have Hepatitis C. The antibody test only indicates if a person has been exposed to the virus. A follow-up RNA test is required to see if there is still an active infection.

 

Hepatitis C treatment makes people sick. Modern treatment methods have fewer side-effects than the older, interferon medications. Common side effects of the newer medications include mild headaches and fatigue.

 

To learn more about HIV, STI, and Hepatitis C through Victory Programs’ Mobile Prevention Team please call 617-927-0836

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National HIV Testing Day

Posted on by Joy Mosenfelder

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. A few months ago Victory Programs’ Mobile Prevention Team added STI, HIV, and Hepatitis C testing and screening to the services available for Victory Programs’ clients and members of the community. The services compliment the education and navigation work the team was already doing around harm reduction and connections to care. Now, when a participant completes a workshop on safer sex, harm reduction in the context of drug use or other risky behavior, or comes to the realization through peer support that they would benefit from testing, a member of the Mobile Prevention Team can offer the service immediately in a safe, non-threatening environment rather than referring the individual out to a primary care physician or medical institution.

“We are mobile, so we are able to provide access to clients in programs as soon as they decide they are ready to be tested,” shares Richard Baker, Program Director for the Mobile Prevention Team. “This reduces barriers to care and results in more of our clients following through and actually getting tested.”

Screening is a key component of prevention work, if an individual does not know they are infected with an STI, HIV, or Hepatitis C they may not take the proper precautions to avoid passing the infection on to others. Early detection is also critical for individuals to receive proper treatment for the best health outcomes.

“Adding screening to our services allows us to provide wraparound services,” explains Richard. “It is easy for the people we work with to put education into practice, they don’t have to take any additional steps.”

You can find out more about our Mobile Prevention Team and the other services they offer at 617-927-0836

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Surviving Pioneers of the HIV Epidemic Recognition Event

Posted on by Joy Mosenfelder

Photo of Tez Anderson with Rob Q and Don HOn Wednesday, June 6, the Victory Programs’ Boston Living Center was packed with attendees for SPHERE “Surviving Pioneers of the HIV Epidemic Recognition Event,” an evening featuring discussion groups, breakout sessions and a panel that brought together consumers and providers to reflect on the impact the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had on those who know it best, the early pioneers who have lived with and/or worked to treat the disease since it was first discovered.

The event opened with a series of breakout sessions including “Heart Disease and the Increased Risk for those living with HIV” led by Sara E. Looby, Ph.D., ANP-BC, FAAN and Kathleen Fitch, MSN, FNP; “Epidemiological Trends in Aging and HIV Nationally and in Massachusetts” led by Dawn Fukuda, Sc.M. and “AIDS Survivor Syndrome Analysis and Discussion” led by Tez Anderson, longtime survivor and founder of “Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome).”Tez Anderson with Ed Crane at SPHERE

After the breakout sessions, attendees enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by the Boston Living Center’s talented Meals and Nutrition staff, followed by remarks from Boston Living Center Program Director Larry Day; Community Advocate Ed Crane; and Dawn Fukuda, Sc.M. The highlight of the evening was the panel discussion comprised of health care panelists Tez Anderson; Marshall Forstein, M.D.; Howard Libman, M.D.; community panelists Don H. and Leah W.; and moderated by Emerson Miller, B.A.

After the event, long-term survivor and Boston Living Center member Rob Q. shared why he felt the increased attention on long-term survivors is critical:

“We, long-term survivors (LTS), are a forgotten part of the HIV/AIDS community. We have to be bold and we need to be more visible. This means ensuring LTS are included in research studies and planning discussions about the emerging needs of our population. HIV prevention and care is not just about preventing new infections and achieving viral suppression. It’s about creating health equity for everyone, including long-term survivors. In my opinion, it is time to update the HIV Treatment Cascade beyond viral suppression and broaden the definition of HIV prevention to include co-morbidity risk assessment and treatment.”



Please consider supporting the Boston Living Center and services for HIV/AIDS survivors here. Thank you!

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