Like many other events this year, the AIDS Walk can't go on as scheduled due to public health concerns and the ongoing pandemic. But unlike many other events, this one has its roots in another virus pandemic that shook San Francisco to its core.
"For those who were part of the early response to the AIDS epidemic, the COVID-19 pandemic is at once unprecedented and strangely familiar," says AIDS Walk founder Craig Miller in a statement. Miller and longtime beneficiary organization and current grants program administrator for the event, PRC (formerly Positive Resource Center), say they are now working on turning the AIDS Walk into an interactive, virtual event that will still take place on the scheduled date of the walk, July 19.
"The funds raised through this event support thousands of San Francisco residents living with HIV/AIDS," Miller says. "This population is one that is also particularly susceptible to respiratory infections such as COVID-19, so we stand ready to support our friends and neighbors so directly imperiled by this health scare, as is our legacy."
Last year, the AIDS Walk raised $1.5 million for HIV/AIDS services organizations in the Bay Area, and this year's walk has already raised over $300,000, as KPIX reports.
Details for how this year's online event will work are still being worked out.
"The decision to reconstruct one of San Francisco’s most beloved events into a virtual one wasn’t easy to make," says Brett Andrews, the CEO of PRC. "The goals of AWSF 2020 are to raise awareness and funds that support HIV care and prevention services, as well as mental health, substance use, housing and other important social programs... We’re excited to roll up our sleeves to create a new vision for the Bay Area’s largest single-day AIDS-related fundraiser."
The AIDS Walk began in San Francisco in 1987 and grew into an enormous annual event in Golden Gate Park that has raised over $90 million for AIDS-related organizations across the Bay Area.
While it may seem to some like the HIV/AIDS crisis is far behind us with advances in both prevention and treatment of the virus, the AIDS Walk continues in order to serve, in particular, low-income and homeless populations that are often disproportionately affected by the virus. As the AIDS Walk website explains, homeless people accounted for 20 percent of newly diagnosed HIV patients in 2018. And there are currently around 16,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco.
In addition to providing emergency financial assistance and legal advocacy for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS, PRC operates multiple programs that also include rehab and detox programs for homeless people struggling with addiction.
As Andrews said in an open letter when the shelter-in-place order began in San Francisco, "Nearly every person we serve is considered “vulnerable” in this Public Health Emergency. That vulnerability is only heightened by Shelter-In-Place orders changing access to needed social and health services across public and private sectors and COVID-19 necessitated disruptions in economic activity." He added, "We’re working hard with and on behalf of clients to retain and secure the income and jobs they need, to stay safely housed, to protect themselves from COVID-19, and to have access to food and essential prescription medications."
If you'd like to donate to AIDS Walk San Francisco this year, you can do so here.