Raynell Franklin, a client at Francis House, looks through the pantry. The AIDS charity based in Seminole Heights keeps Franklin fed and gives him a chance to socialize with about four dozen other people facing the same challenges. CLIFF MCBRIDE/STAFF
TAMPA - Sixteen years after he was diagnosed with HIV, Raynell Franklin gets by each day with the help of the federal government. He's been on Social Security disability insurance since his diagnosis, which cost him his job as a registered nurse. A federal program geared toward people with HIV/AIDS covers part of his housing. Most days, he's a fixture at Francis House, a 23-year-old AIDS charity based in Seminole Heights that keeps him fed and gives him a chance to socialize with about four dozen other people in the same boat. "He's the mayor," Francis House director Joy Winheim said, introducing Franklin, 59, to a visitor.
But Franklin and others living with HIV/AIDS in the Tampa area will have to learn to live with less next year as federal budget cuts reduce support for the 21-year-old program known as Housing for People with AIDS. Tampa will lose nearly $400,000 from this housing allocation in 2014, about 12 percent of the $3.2 million it received this year. The loss will affect Francis House, Catholic Charities and other groups that work with people living with AIDS. "We are expecting the cuts in HOPWA," Winheim said. "We've had cuts every one of the eight years I've been here." The reduction was due to a combination of the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration and the addition of three new cities to the Housing for People with AIDS program, which meant the existing funds had to stretch further, said HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan. The cuts will put a squeeze on Francis House, which gets about a third of its $800,000 budget from Housing for People with AIDS. The specter of cuts forced Winheim to weigh laying off one of her case workers. A state grant helped her avoid that step for now. Tomi Steinruck, HIV/AIDS program manager for Catholic Charities, said she has focused on reducing administrative costs to keep the focus on her 280 clients. It's not clear how long she can keep doing that. "It's difficult to continue when you continue to lose funding," Steinruck said. Both women say private fundraising is tough. More than 30 years after HIV first appeared, it still carries a stigma, they said. "We're limited by who we serve," Winheim said. Winheim said Francis House has received support from its neighbors in the Seminole Heights area. The agency is in the midst of expanding its cramped offices on Florida Avenue, adding a two-story counseling center at the south end of the property. That project has gotten about $315,000 in federal support over the past three years. Francis House has raised $50,000 on its own, but remains $200,000 short of paying off the project, Winheim said. Housing for People with AIDS covers about 70 percent of Franklin's rent each month. The shrinking federal support could make it hard to stay in his apartment, which wasn't easy to get in the first place. "It's always hard to find housing," he said. It's likely to get harder as the Tampa Housing Authority cuts 400 Section 8 housing vouchers from its program to match cuts in its federal support. About 70 of those vouchers are set aside each year for people with HIV/AIDS. "We're always worried we're going to lose vouchers," Winheim said. Francis House serves 500 people with HIV/AIDS, a small number of the area's total cases, Winheim said. With advances in medication and disease management, many people with HIV/AIDS now live independently and thrive. But not everyone. "It's a very tricky disease," said Franklin, who has had both pneumonia and tuberculosis in recent years. [email protected] (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO