Yvette Williams doesn’t necessarily consider herself a hero — although the hundreds, if not thousands, of people living with HIV whom she has helped over the past decades certainly do.
After learning she was HIV-positive, Williams has devoted her life to helping others. “Working with people who are HIV-positive has been a passion of mine since I was first diagnosed in 1998,” says Williams, who works with at-risk and marginalized people living with HIV in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area. “I have always advocated for this population because I feel as though it is my responsibility to give back what has been given to me.”
Williams has served as senior patient advocate at Allegheny Health Network’s Positive Health Clinic in Pittsburgh (for 14 years), and as program manager at The Open Door, Inc. (OpenDoorHousing.org) — an organization which provides housing and related services to the oft-forgotten population of chronically homeless people living with HIV — since 2006.
Christina Farmartino, executive director at The Open Door, says Williams “works tirelessly every day to improve the quality of life for women and men in our community,” — and often goes above and beyond her job duties to meet clients at all hours to find them shelter, or accompany them to court hearings or doctor’s appointments.
“There are uncountable stories of individuals, chronically homeless on the streets, that Yvette has moved into an apartment the same day she has met them,” says Farmartino. “She has helped innumerable individuals stay medically and medication adherent. She has supported hundreds in getting into treatment and recovery from substances. Yvette has aided many in leaving domestic violence situations, transitioning into school or work, and receiving therapy and treatment for severe, untreated mental illness.”
Williams says if she could change one thing through her advocacy work, she “would increase the housing programs available for people who are HIV-positive.”
Williams has been happily married now for nine years “to my wonderful husband, Nathaniel.” Together, the couple has five adult daughters and six grandchildren (and another on the way).
Farmartino says clients are often shocked — but ultimately deeply inspired — by the fact the happy, healthy, and vibrant 57-year-old has survived many of the same difficulties and hardships that they are currently dealing with.
“When new residents find that Yvette has shared their experiences of homelessness, addictions, and struggles with medication adherence, they understand that their own challenges can be overcome.”