The first cases of AIDS were diagnosed in Washington State in 1982 and in Pierce County in 1983. Little was known about this new disease, which was not officially named AIDS until 1984. Community-based organizations had begun to provide services to people with HIV/AIDS in the early 1980’s in some large cities, but until 1987, Pierce County had only a task force of volunteers who were struggling to figure out how to address this health crisis.
In 1987 funding for HIV prevention became available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Associated Ministries stepped up to apply for the funds, becoming one of the earliest ecumenical organizations in the nation to embrace an AIDS program. With the CDC grant, the newly named Pierce County AIDS Foundation (PCAF) incorporated and a community educator was hired to conduct AIDS prevention in the gay community. To serve the needs of the first clients, volunteers created client assistance programs: the “buddy” program and client support groups that helped clients with emergencies.
1988 saw the passage of the Washington State Omnibus AIDS Act, a sweeping response to the epidemic addressing training, education, rights for people living with HIV/AIDS, and also establishing state funding. With this, PCAF hired a full-time volunteer coordinator and firmly established client services. The first board of directors was installed in 1988.
In 1989 PCAF hired its first Executive Director, Jeannie Darneille, and case management services became available through the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. In 1989 alone, PCAF added the following education and client services: monthly volunteer orientations and volunteer in-service training opportunities, hospital visitation programs, an HIV testing site, quilt workshops, an essential needs bank for items not available through food banks or food stamp programs, and three periodicals for treatment issues, volunteer needs, and the general public.
In 1988 Tacoma put itself on the map by opening the first needle exchange in the United States. Dave Purchase opened the Tacoma needle exchange, investing his own money for needles, and setting up a card table. The following year the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department began funding needle exchange, making it the first legal, publicly supported needle exchange in the United States. By the end of 1990, PCAF had a budget of $287,000, had served over 200 clients, many of them referred by the needle exchange, and moved to offices in the Old City Hall. Funding from the City of Tacoma and the United Way was received, and collaborative relationships began with Community Health Care, AIDS Housing Association of Tacoma and other non-profits.
By 1992 it had become evident that the demographics of the epidemic were much different in Pierce County than the rest of the state. The population tended to be younger, poorer, have less formal education, fewer financial resources, be more likely to be women and people of color, and more likely to have issues aside from HIV/AIDS like mental illness, chemical dependency, or homelessness. The AIDS Peer Education Exchange (APEX) program was formed at local high schools throughout Pierce County with support from the Pierce County Council. APEX is a peer education program targeting high school aged youth. The only remaining APEX group can be found at Gig Harbor High and is trained in HIV 101 each year by PCAF Prevention staff.
The same year, PCAF was also instrumental in organizing an AIDS walk in Tacoma to benefit all AIDS service providers in the County. By the end of 1992, there had been over 400 clients served at PCAF. The Housing Options Program was created in 1993 to address the needs of our clients for safe, affordable, accessible housing. This program began with one Housing Advocate working with private landlords, but, with public and private support, PCAF began providing emergency housing assistance, Section 8 vouchers, tenant-based rental assistance, housing advocacy and volunteer assistance with moving.
A major reorganization of client services provided occurred in 1994 and 1995 as the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department divested case management services. About 95% of HIV-positive clients chose to have case management provided by PCAF.
Over the years, PCAF has served as an incubator of LGBTQ programs, organizations, and events in our community. As a leader in the social justice movement on issues impacting those affected by HIV/AIDS and also the LGBTQ community, PCAF has provided technical support, capacity building, relationship building, and financial support to organizations that share some of our core values, including Oasis Youth Center, Tacoma Pride, and the Rainbow Center.
In 2012, PCAF began providing services in Olympia and serving clients previously served by United Communities AIDS Network (UCAN), which ceased operations in 2011 after 26 years of serving the Olympia community. UCAN approached PCAF in 2011 and the board of directors of both organizations set out a plan that would continue to provide Thurston and Lewis County residents with quality services with the highest level of continuity possible. PCAF currently provides services to about 150 people living with HIV/AIDS in the greater Olympia area.
As PCAF serves the community in its 30th year, the epidemic has changed, but HIV infections in the U.S. continue at an unacceptable level (about 50,000/year). We anticipate a future where people will need our services longer than ever. Programs have come and gone, depending on need and the availability of funding. Public policy debates have raged about issues such as mandatory testing, named reporting, and routine HIV testing without pre- and post-counseling provided. Amid the debate people are living longer with HIV infection and are still becoming infected. To this end, we have invested in the purchase and renovation of a new building in Tacoma in 2015 and will be moving our Olympia office in the spring of 2017 to a new facility that will allow us to better serve our clients and to provide a welcoming, dignified, and hopeful space for all who come through our doors.
PCAF currently has a budget of over $2.65 million. We have provided services to over 2,700 clients. We have a staff of over 35 people, more than 200 volunteers, and over 1,400 individual contributors. We continue to strive to fulfill our mission of service, education, and advocacy for and with the people infected and affected by HIV in Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, and Mason Counties.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to social justice and to extending our reach in the community to combat HIV-related stigma that is still so prevalent in our society.
Updated February 2017