Austin residents receive free HIV testing

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Austin’s Black Congressional Caucus, the Austin Wellness Center and the Chicago House partnered earlier this month to host “The Corner,” an event during which West Side residents listened to music, ate food and could get a free HIV test.

“The Corner” began three years ago in an effort to bring sexual health awareness directly to the neighborhood, according to Richard Wallace, prevention coordinator for Austin’s chapter of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“We try to get folks in the door that are positive, and we want to get them care and reduce the viral load,” Wallace said. “It’s also important for the community to know that we’re apart of the community. We’re not just here to take. We’re here to give.”

On average, the center administers between 20 to 40 HIV tests during these events, Wallace said.

During the Aug. 2nd event, about 30 Austin residents received HIV tests, while others received male and female condoms.

The Austin Wellness Center typically holds “The Corner” every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month, with the next event taking place place Sept. 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Austin Wellness Center, 4800 W. Chicago Ave.

Cassandra Stewart, an Austin resident who attended this month’s event, said she enjoyed the evening and is glad the center provides free HIV testing for the community.

“People really need to get themselves tested,” Steward said. “More people should come out should get tested just to be on the safe side.”

According to the Chicago Department of Health’s 2011 Healthy Chicago STI & HIV Surveillance report, more than 20,000 Chicagoans are living with HIV.

The report estimates that about 5,000 others are infected with HIV but on’t know it.

Sylvester Bonner, manager of the basic prevention department at the Austin Wellness Center, said the best part about the event was educating people about sexual health. For those who can’t come to the next event, the center offers free HIV testing at anytime, Bonner said.

“It’s important that you know your status, because you don’t have to look sick or be sick,” Bonner said. “If you are positive and you know your status, you can do something about it.”

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