BY KAYLEE DUFF
(Photos courtesy of CANAPI)
Get to know the Akron organization working to make Ohio a happier and safer place for all!
“Working with CANAPI is meaningful to me because our staff really cares about the community. Our staff is small but mighty, and we are all doing our part to work for a common goal, and it makes us a great team.” — Alyssa Hameister, Outreach Specialist
The Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative (CANAPI) is located in the heart of Akron, Ohio. They serve the city and the surrounding area, by advocating, educating and providing housing and other social services for those living with HIV/AIDS and the region’s LGBTQ+ community.
CANAPI was formed by combining two existing LGBTQ+ resources into one amazing community outreach program. In 1996, the Community AIDS Network (CAN) was founded by merging two long-standing AIDS service organizations, the Summit AIDS Housing Corporation and the Northeast Ohio Task Force on AIDS (NEOTFA). Both organizations, and then later CAN, provided housing, health and support services for people in the community living with AIDS or HIV. In 1998, the Akron Pride Center was founded, to advocate for the well-being of the LGBTQ+ population in the city.
CAN and the Akron Pride Center joined forces in January 2010, to create CANAPI. Eight and a half years later, the organization is still going strong and bettering the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and those living with HIV/AIDS in northeast Ohio.
Benefiting the community is truly the core of the work that the organization does, Outreach Specialist Alyssa Hameister, explained. “Since we are doing case management and following up with our clients we can truly see the impact that we have in their lives,” she said. “I also really love when people tell me that I made them feel comfortable and safe and that I am easy to talk to, when I’m doing HIV testing and counseling.”
CANAPI has many different programs that make all of that possible, including several housing programs, HIV services, a nutrition program, the Teen Pride Network and the One Life Program. Below are summaries and some info about each of their services.
These housing programs are specifically for those who have a member of the household who is living with HIV, with the exception for our LGBTQ Youth Housing Assistance Program.
- Harmony Place: A 16-unit apartment complex for those living with HIV and another disabling condition; a permanent supportive housing program.
- The LGBTQ Housing Assistance program: For emancipated youth ages 13-17 and young adults ages 18-24 in Summit and Portage counties. It pays for first month’s rent or a security deposit aimed at assisting households in need with permanent, stable housing placement. The program also equips LGBTQ youth and young adults with an “essentials kit” (anything they may need to survive or thrive while in between stable housing situations).
- The Helping Hands program: A Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program. An average of four households per year have the opportunity to rent an apartment in the community aided by CANAPI subsidy. For twelve months, CANAPI staff works closely with these clients to equip them with tools necessary for independent living. At the end of the program, clients transition into full rent responsibility and are able to continue onward knowing that their housing situation is healthy and reliable.
- The Rapid Re-Housing Program: For up to nine households at a time using grant dollars from Summit County’s Continuum of Care (CoC). In this housing model, homeless individuals work with CANAPI case managers to identify and secure rental housing in the community covered by an income-based subsidy for a limited period of time. The length of this assistance may vary on a case-to-case basis but may not exceed twelve months. Through involved case management and self actualization, households set and achieve goals necessary to attain and maintain permanent, independent housing.
- CANAPI also offers referrals to the Shelter + Care program, a permanent supportive housing voucher program operated by the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA). This program is offered to households with HIV and an additional disabling condition whose housing needs would otherwise be unmet. Those admitted benefit ongoing income-based subsidy and access to support services based on an annual needs assessment.
- CANAPI also offers up to 21 weeks per year of emergency assistance for those with HIV/AIDS who are experiencing documented financial hardships. Assistance funds are used to prevent the loss of housing stability (an outstanding utility in danger of shut-off or late rent balance, for example) and are paid directly to landlords or service providers. This assistance accompanies counseling to prevent future occurrence and is limited by both frequency of assistance and funds availability. Applications and counseling are provided by Equitas Health.
CANAPI conducts free HIV testing, counseling and referral services to individuals at a heightened risk of infection. They do testing by appointment Monday through Thursday, and offer open testing hours from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
CANAPI’s Nutrition Program distinguishes itself by offering fresh, organic and nutrient-rich produce, dairy and meats/proteins to our clients living with HIV on a bi-weekly basis. We are able to do so through the generosity and support from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Crown Point Ecology Center, The Salvation Army of Akron and Summit County, and through Nutrition Program Sponsorship donations. Individuals living with HIV on average burn 10% more calories/nutrients than a person who is not HIV+. With this in mind, CANAPI is excited to help people who are HIV+ have accessibility to the proper nutrients needed to maintain good health.
TEEN PRIDE NETWORK
The Teen PRIDE Network is a collaborative project between PFLAG Akron, CANAPI, GLSEN Northeast Ohio and the UUCA. Their mission is to provide safe activities and places for those teens in the Greater Akron area who are suffering from a sense of isolation or a negative environment in their school, family units and smaller communities. CANAPI aims to provide safe places and positive, engaging activities to give teens opportunities to meet other LGBTQ+ teens, allies and caring adults. Changes to the structure of this program are coming soon to make the TPN even more youth-run!
ONE LIFE PROGRAM
One Life is made up of a few parts:
- Youth and young adult empowerment through an evidence-based prevention program called Say It Straightforward (also known as Say It Straight™).
- Say It Straightforward is a research-based skills building program that results in: empowered communication skills and behaviors; increased self-awareness, positive relationships, and personal and social responsibility; and decreased risky or destructive behaviors.
- Free and confidential HIV and hepatitis C testing and linkage to care.
- Substance misuse, HIV and hepatitis C prevention messaging throughout the community.
- Capacity building to increase prevention services for 13-24 year old minority populations.
While working at CANAPI, Alyssa has had life-changing chances to experience the impact of CANAPI’s programming. One recent client experiences stands out in her memory. They were helping a youth out through the LGBTQ Housing Assistance program, after several long bouts of bad luck landed him with no transportation and no place to live. He came to CANAPI with a job, but needed financial help for his first month’s rent/security deposit (which is what the LGBTQHA program is there for!).
After a couple months with no further word from him, Alyssa got back in touch. “He had lost his job and his roommates were becoming hostile,” she told us. “Our housing and support specialist, Gulnar, teamed up with a landlord who we use all the time for clients and found him a place to stay, but a unit won’t be available until end of August.” Gulnar and Alyssa explained the situation the Rebecca, CANAPI’s Executive Director. They were informed that the organization could house him in a hotel until the unit became available.
“He just moved in on Sunday, and I have never seen a client more grateful and appreciative,” said Alyssa. “He thanked us multiple times in person and sent out an email to us as well that made us all cry! We got him out of being literally homeless, and were able to help him become stably housed. It made me so thankful for my job and our ability to help those in need.”
But CANAPI’s involvement with the community reaches even further beyond their own specific housing and outreach programs. They host community events and fundraisers — and they’re the fiscal sponsor for Akron Pride!
This year’s Akron Pride Festival is set to be held later this month, on Saturday, August 25. The day’s events are completely free and open to the public! Akron Pride starts at 11 a.m. with the Equality March, in Highland Square. Then the party moves over to the festival, starting at noon in Hardesty Park. There will be vendors, friends and entertainment. Musician Betty Who will headline the main stage with a performance you definitely won’t want to miss!
So what’s next at CANAPI? In addition to Akron Pride, they have a ton of awesome events coming up!
On August 11 and 12, CANAPI is holding the David B. Cook Memorial Fundraiser. It will be held at Tear-EZ Bar, in honor of David B. Cook, a previous Tear-EZ owner who was a well-known and loved community member. The fundraiser includes raffles, a drag show, and more! Funds from the event go towards CANAPI programs, to help prevent the spread of HIV and support systems for those living with HIV/AIDS.
The following day, on August 13, is the Weathervane Playhouse Benefit Performance of The Divine Sister. Once a year, Weathervane Playhouse plays host to a special-event, one-night-only benefit performance, and all proceeds benefit CANAPI programs. You can learn more and buy tickets here.
On Friday, September 21, CANAPI is sponsoring the Rainbow Run. This 5K run/walk benefits the LGBTQ Emergency Fund at Kent State University. Like other fun color runs, participants collect colorful glow items along the way so they can finish with flair! For more information on participating, visit the Facebook event page or the event registration page.
CANAPI is also engaged with the Game Change Conference, which will be held on October 15. The GCC includes dynamic workshops, lectures and networking for professionals, scholars and students that promote health, wellness, and cultural competency for the LGBTQ+ community and those who work with them. In years past, CANAPI has been the facilitator of Game Change Conference. This year, it is being facilitated and held by Kent State University Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) and the Kent State University LGBTQ Center. CANAPI is still involved in the GCC steering committee.
The Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative really is making a difference. From the larger impact of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS to the smaller, more personal moment of helping one individual find a place to stay, CANAPI is a non-profit for the community, by the community. They provide the types of resources and services we’d like to see growing across the state and changing lives throughout the country.
Don’t forget to stop by the CANAPI tent at the Akron Pride Festival on Saturday, August 25, to learn more about this fantastic community organization and meet some of their world-class staff.
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