Phyllis Sharpe

Page  1 PHYLLIS SHARPE Phyllis Sharpe is a formerly homeless woman living with HIV-related illness. She is a founding member of Anger Into Direct Action, a self-empowerment group for homeless and formerly homeless persons living with AIDS and HIV. Over the last year, Ms. Sharpe has spoken about homelessness and AIDS across the country. Ms. Sharpe is the mother of six children, the youngest of whom is also infected with HIV. When she discovered she was infected with HIV, Ms. Sharpe entered treatment for drug dependence and has remained drug-free for over a year and a half. In that time she has succeeded in finding an apartment and regaining custody of her children, who were in foster care throughout the five boroughs. The following is Ms. Sharpe's biography: My name is Phyllis Sharpe. I was born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. My family was supposedly "complete." I had two working parents who lived together and owned their home. On my block in the ghetto, we lived on the good side, went to school in the better neighborhood, and had all the toys, clothes, and such that other children on the block only dreamt of, or would have to steal in order to own. Others would have to make the bikes that my parents bought me. Many people mistook me for being much older than I was because of the expensive clothes I wore. Consequently, when I was a teenager I began going to parties with older kids, and drugs became a part of my life. I wanted to be just like everyone else, to be included. So I began smoking marijuana, taking pills, sniffing cocaine, doing LSD, and finally shooting heroine and cocaine. My life was a non stop struggle with drugs up until the age of 37. At that time I was smoking crack and living the life of a "crackhead." Sex, stealing, robbing, mis-usage of funds were all ways to obtain my next hit. In the course of my crack addiction, I got pregnant. This, however, didn't stop me from using. After the birth of my youngest daughter, one of her older sisters that I would leave the baby with called the Bureau of Child Welfare, and all the children were taken away from me. Eventually the two older ones were returned to me because I was in a drug program, but they still kept the baby. When at a clinic appointment, I was asked if I wanted to take the test for AIDS since I was waiting for some results on my 7 year old. Thinking nothing of it, I took the test and was toldt return in a month for the results. The next month I was phoned by the doctor and asked to come to the office. It was in February 1988 that I was told I was HIV positive and had only 1 year left to live. When I heard this, I thought I was going to lose my mind. I began smoking even more crack. In family court I was told to stay on the program and that I had to get an apartment. After several visits to court, (0 C) -N II') 0)ll i0 - LC....

Page  2 the worker informed me that my two year old (now four years old) was also positive. I again felt I was going to lose my mind. Suddenly all these agencies were in my life. With my daughter taken away from me and agencies that were supposed to help me doing nothing, my life became hell. It was as if I were a rubber band. One of the places I was ordered to go was a woman's support group. Today I thank them, because this is where I discovered that going weekly to hear sad stories and witness alot of crying repeatedly about the same thing was not the place for me. Since I was also homeless, I was referred at this time to the Coalition for the Homeless and began going to AIDA (Anger Into Direct Action). It was here that I gained the strength and guidance I needed to regain control over my life. Eventually I got an apartment and all my children back. The next part of my war against AIDS was to begin hunting. Yes I use this word because I have learned as a woman of color with AIDS and as a mother of an HIV positive child on medicaid, that I have to always keep my ears and eyes open, and never stop thinking about this issue. There is no one to tell me what to expect as a woman living with AIDS, and most of the time I don't know the right questions to ask. And yet I have had to be my own social worker, doctor, drug counselor, home worker, and even my own clinical researcher. Just two months ago, through my involvement with ACT UP I finally met a doctor who really cares and listens to me. I can now say that my daughter and I are getting the same care as the richer community, but only because we have fought for it.