CLEVELAND — Every community has its own hardships and Earl Pike knows all too well the hardships that Slavic Village has faced.
“Surviving these kinds of conditions takes extraordinary will and human capability. The people who live here are survivors,” he said.
He’s the executive director of University Settlement, the main social service provider for the neighborhood.
“We provide youth, senior, family and food services for about half of the community at any given point," Pike said.
For the past year, his organization has also been working to figure out why HIV cases have been steadily rising in Slavic Village over the past 5 years.
“There was a sense of urgency, I guess, because the numbers were concerning,” he said. “But you don't want to just kind of blindly react. You want to be strategic about how you mobilize your intervention.”
According to the state department of health, over half of new reported cases of HIV in Ohio in 2019 were in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties. Out of Cuyahoga County, Slavic Village’s zip code reported more than 50 new diagnoses in the last several years.
“Slavic Village was one of the first neighborhoods, through University Settlement, to respond to our call to really do a deeper dive in terms of what's been happening in local neighborhoods,” said Julie Patterson, the director of the AIDS Funding Collaborative.
In 2019, University Settlement received $25,000 from the AIDS Funding Collaborative to study why Slavic Village struggled more than different zip codes.
“It helps to cover some of the folks who are working on the project, in terms of doing the neighborhood assessment,” said Patterson.
Pike said they’ve used those funds to do just that: a neighborhood assessment. Volunteers from the neighborhood have conducted door knock interviews, have passed out condoms, and have talked to people in the neighborhood about what is missing when it comes to prevention and intervention.
“People wanted the information. They knew people who were at risk. They wanted to be safe, and that's where we got people volunteering, ‘Hey, I'll cover our block. I'll cover our block’ that sort of thing,” he said.
From their grassroots research, they know they need more testing, access to clean syringes and condoms and support groups for people living with HIV.
And while 2020 was a year of learning and research for his organization, he hopes 2021 will be a year of action.
“Now that we've done all that, we feel like we can we can come up with a more coherent and neighborhood-based plan,” he said.