Six Questions with San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s Chief Executive Officer Amy Fitzpatrick

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As a part of our mission to bring increased awareness of the amazing efforts of our local HIV/AIDS community and service organizations, Think Red Project (the non-profit organization behind Red Dress Party San Diego) will be publishing periodic blogs highlighting a beneficiary of the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative (SDHDF). The SDHDF currently grants funds to 11 different HIV/AIDS service organizations in San Diego. #CelebrateImpact

The following is a Q&A with Amy Fitzpatrick, Esq., Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP):

Question: In one sentence, what does your organization represent?
Amy Fitzpatrick: San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc., provides LEGAL POWER through timely, vital legal representation to low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS in their fight for fundamental human rights, including comprehensive health care coverage, freedom from discriminatory employment and housing policies and practices, safe and affordable housing, representation in disability appeals, representation in unfair public benefits denials, and freedom from illegal collection tactics from creditors.

Q: Why is it still important to care about HIV/AIDS today?
AF: Because while HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, for many, it continues to provide a life sentence of poverty.  Attorneys at SDVLP are dedicated to helping those with HIV/AIDS avoid lifelong poverty, and the difficulties that go with it.

Q: What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your clientele?
AF: That our community is extremely resilient.  Nevertheless, until San Diego is free from illegal and discriminatory housing, employment, and business practices, social justice attorneys are necessary to protect and defend the rights of San Diegans living with HIV/AIDS.

Q: How does your organization use the money granted from the HIV Funding Collaborative?
AF: SDVLP uses the money to provide crucial legal services to underserved, low-income, hard-to-reach populations of San Diegans living with HIV/AIDS: such as assistance with obtaining medical insurance coverage for medical and dental procedures; public benefits issues, including SSI/SSDI (Social Security disability benefits); debtor/creditor problems, including assistance with medical debt, consumer debt and bankruptcy; assistance with estate planning, including the preparation of advance health care directives, durable powers of attorney, and wills; resolving housing issues; employment law, including HIV/AIDS discrimination; and other miscellaneous civil matters.

Q: What are the needs in the local HIV/AIDS community that you think have not been met or can be improved upon?
AF: This community needs more free legal services in order to significantly improve their lives, especially hard-to-reach individuals with HIV/AIDS, such as women, families, minority men who have sex with men, individuals in sober living facilities, newly-diagnosed individuals, and those who are monolingual Spanish-speaking.  So many battles may only be won by those with legal expertise along with the determination to obtain just results for those who need them most.

Q: What’s one thing you’d like to tell today’s youth or younger generation? Or what type of change would you like to see people make in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
AF: KNOW your RIGHTS, and share that knowledge with others!  Understanding one’s legal rights is crucial to ending discriminatory practices that those living with HIV/AIDS face on a daily basis. SDVLP is there to educate and to empower this community to exercise their right to live free from discrimination.

For more information on the SDVLP, please visit www.sdvlp.org.