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|Santa Monica Woman Comes to Terms with HIV|
By Jason Islas
First in a series of three articles
June 19, 2012 -- In the midst of its move south on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, Common Ground has come under increasing scrutiny amidst accusations that the non-profit agency increases crime.
While crime statistics do not seem to support that contention, the clients of the only HIV treatment center on the Westside remain little more than faceless statistics. ("Santa Monica's Common Ground Has Had No Impact on Crime, Statistics Show," June 4, 2012)
As Common Ground finalizes its move from Bay Street to Cedar Street, The Lookout will introduce its readers to some of the clients who, according to agency officials, “historically have faced barriers in accessing health care: HIV-positive people, the homeless, those with mental illness, women, injection drug users... and youth.”
Many of those seeking help found Common Ground, which started in 1992 as the Santa Monica AIDS Project, at very desperate times in their lives, while others, like Margie Davin, felt that they had lost everything.
A middle-aged woman with an easy temperament and a permanent smile, Davin lives with her two daughters in a modest house in Santa Monica's Sunset Park neighborhood. But, at times, it has been an uphill struggle for her.
In 2000, Davin took her youngest daughter to the doctor after the pre-schooler took too long to recover from a mild illness.
When the doctor told Davin – who is originally from New Jersey – what was wrong, she “went all Jersey on him.” She cursed and told him he didn't know what he was talking about.
She simply couldn't believe her daughter was HIV positive, she said.
Davin remembered clearly that after her initial reaction, the doctor, who she described as a large man with a very calm voice, looked her in the eyes and said, “Margie, this isn't a mistake.”
That was just the beginning. Tests showed that Davin and her second-oldest daughter, who was in elementary school, also were HIV positive.
Once the initial shock passed, Davin was left with only one question: “What do I do now?”
“I just wanted to make sure my children knew that they did nothing wrong,” she said. “It was one thing for me to have it, but also my children. . . ” Davin trailed off.
To this day, the mother of three daughters doesn't known how she contracted the virus, but acknowledges that she made some "bad choices" in the past.
As if that wasn't enough, once he learned the news, her husband became abusive, Davin said. “I had to get out of there."
And she did, moving to an apartment run by Upward Bound House – another Santa Monica nonprofit dedicated to eliminating homelessness among families.
“I felt alone,” she said. “I don't have family here. I don't have relatives here.”
But that changed for Davin in 2003 when, after several years of driving to West Hollywood for her treatment, she decided to go to Common Ground.
At first Davin was hesitant. She was afraid that her neighbors would find out that she and her daughters were living with HIV and would avoid them.
But instead of facing judgment and stigma, Common Ground's staff and clients became her new family, Davin said.
Having come to terms with the fact that she and her daughters were HIV positive, Gavin began to realize that her identity had become tied to the disease.
She said she learned to carry herself with dignity and began serving as a role model, counseling others who came to Common Ground and visiting schools to share her story.
It seemed her old self -- the person she had been before her daughter's fateful visit to the doctor -- was back again, Gavin said.
“I'm not HIV. I'm Margie!” she said emphatically, with a smile.
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