JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Yvonne Hires has lived a difficult life. As a young woman, she was on the streets of Jacksonville, addicted to drugs.
She said she slept with men so she could get high. In 2003, she wasn't feeling right and was taken to a clinic.
"They also said that I was HIV positive, and that's all I remember,” Hires said of the devastating diagnosis.
For nearly 15 years, treatment has been difficult for Hires.
"I was looking for a sponsor, and after I told her my status, she backed away from me. I cried,” said Hires, now 59. "You can't get it from shaking somebody's hand or touching somebody."
Hires doesn't have a car, so it took several bus transfers and several hours to get to the HIV clinic in Springfield. Now she receives services at a new CAN Health Center close to home on Philips Highway south of Emerson Street.
"I never thought I'd have this much support, but I do,” Hires said.
The new CAN Community Health Center and Pharmacy on the Southside is actually located inside the same building as Lutheran Social Services. The organization shut down its thrift shop and made some renovations to make room for the clinic, which offers comprehensive medical and dental services for HIV patients in one location. There's also a pharmacy on site.
Hires is just one of more than 7,000 people in Northeast Florida battling HIV or AIDS -- and the new clinic offers more access to treatment.
“I'm praying that a lot of people will come and get tested,” Hires said.
Hires said her tragic diagnosis turned her life around for the better.
If I wouldn't have gotten tested, I still would have been out there in the streets, doing drugs, sleeping with other men and I didn't believe in using condoms,” Hires said.
She is now drug free and volunteers at Lutheran Social Services.
Hires said she hopes her story will inspire others to get tested and use protection.