Protesters demand more AIDS services, want director to step down - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Protesters demand more AIDS services, want director to step down

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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

A small group of protesters took to the streets Thursday, calling for the resignation of the executive director of the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force. The protesters have a list of complaints, including lack of funding and services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

"We demand to meet the board! We demand to see the board!" they chanted as cars passed by.

Clients and activists protested in front of the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force building on Fernwood Road in Biloxi.

"No funds. No services!" they shouted.

Only four people showed up, but they said they were speaking for those who didn't come for fear of retaliation tied to the stigma of HIV and AIDS.

"My concern is lack of services," said JoAnn Wilson, a client of SMATF. "The only thing you get here is a bag and a referral to another service to help you with your light bill."

"We are tired of being overlooked by the board. We have been trying unsuccessfully to meet with them, so we had to take it to the streets," said Luke Vesher, Field Organizer for AIDS Action in Mississippi.

The protesters called for the resignation of SMATF Executive Director Brandi Clarke.

"Brandi must go! Brandi must go!" they chanted.

"She is incompetent and incapable of doing the job," said Versher.  "She's been here a little over a year and has not written one successful grant."

Clarke told WLOX News no one has approached her about those complaints. 

"Personally, I feel I've done an outstanding job," Clarke said. "The lights were about to be turned off when I took the role of executive director."

Clarke said personnel, funds, and services have been cut because a $100,000 HUD grant was not renewed back in 2008. Over the past year, she has received at least six grants, hired a full-time licensed social worker, and restored a case worker position.

"We've hired staff, we've increased our services, and will continue to do so," said Clarke.

The protesters also want Clarke to hire a Peer Counselor, someone living with HIV or AIDS who can relate to the clients.

"We need help here. People are dying," said Wilson.

"We want to hear their voice. We want to help them," said Clarke.

SMATF Board President Jocelyn Lane said she has already talked with some of the clients about their concerns, and there is a committee in place to address any complaints.  Lane said several clients were invited to speak at Tuesday night's board meeting, but they did not appear before the board and executive director.  She is trying to set up another time to meet with them.

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