Victoria Stone knows something about young people. As an outreach worker for Urban Peak, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that shelters and assists homeless youths, she comes in contact with them every day, and they open up to her about many things — like their sex lives.
“So many people are having sex at a young age. It’s stupid-crazy how young they’re starting,” she says.
And it’s a sure bet many of them are engaging in unsafe sex. According to a 2007 U.S. Centers for Disease Control study, 38 percent of sexually active high school students did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
They, along with young IV drug users, are among the people Stone hopes to reach with a two-week, multi-agency campaign to provide free HIV testing for people 25 years old and younger. (See schedule, contacts below.)
The You Know Different campaign, which starts Friday, is part of an effort by the Washington, D.C.-based National Youth Advocacy Coalition to boost HIV awareness and testing in young people nationwide, especially among higher-risk groups such as gays, lesbians, blacks and Hispanics.
“The under-25 population is the fastest-growing population of HIV,” Stone says. “That’s where the title comes from: You don’t think you can get it, but you know different.”
Richard Blair, executive director of the Southern Colorado Aids Project — S-CAP — says it could be that those 25 and under really don’t know much about HIV and the disease it causes, AIDS. At one time, he says, HIV and AIDS were in the news almost daily, and loomed large as the world’s most feared illness.
Then, pharmaceutical companies developed drugs to ease the symptoms and help people live longer, but there’s still no cure.
“We became complacent thinking, ‘OK, a pill can take care of this. We don’t have to worry about it anymore,’” Blair says. “Now we’re seeing signs of that complacency.”
The CDC estimates that about 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, but 21 percent don’t know it. So the push to educate more people about HIV is on, spearheaded by the youth coalition with support from the CDC.
It’s the first time Colorado Springs has had a You Know Different event, and Stone wanted to broaden its reach by including several other agencies that will provide free HIV testing, condoms, educational materials and even bleach kits for needles.
The HIV test itself is fast and easy — an oral swab, with results in 20 minutes. If it comes back positive, a second test is done, and if that’s positive, the person is immediately hooked up with medical services. Everything is confidential, Stone says, and names aren’t verified.
“If you say you’re Minnie Mouse — OK,” she says.
Although the national campaign focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and minority youths, Stone says anyone 25 and under in Colorado Springs can get tested.
WHERE TO GET TESTED
The You Know Different campaign runs from Friday through April 15. Some places will provide free walk-in testing every weekday; others are doing testing on certain days. Several provide free testing year-round. Call the following agencies for details:
• Urban Peak, 630-3223
• Inside Out Youth Services: 328-1056
• Colorado Springs Pride Center: 471-4429
• Southern Colorado AIDS Project: 578-9092
Other testing opportunities:
April 1: 8-10 p.m. at the Queer Prom, Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center
April 5: UCCS heath fair, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Berger Hall on the UCCS campus (for students, faculty and staff)
April 8: Inside Out, 235 S. Nevada Ave., 5:30-7:30 p.m.
April 9: Pride Center Health Fair, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 2508 E. Bijou St.
April 12: S-CAP, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 1301 South 8th Street, Suite 200
April 15: Inside Out, 5:30-7:30 p.m
April 26 and 29: Planned Parenthood is providing low-cost testing for its own nationwide campaign, Get Yourself Tested. The two Colorado Springs offices are offering a $10 HIV test and $10 gonorrhea/chlamydia test. For the east side clinic at 3958 N. Academy Blvd. #108, call 573-8880 for hours and details. For the west side clinic at 3480 Centennial Blvd,, call 475-7162 for hours and details.