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Dallas Thrift Store Offers Clothes, High Heels, And Free HIV Testing

Lauren Silverman
Out of the Closet in Oak Lawn offers free HIV testing and is constructing a pharmacy.

Out of the Closet is not your average thrift shop. Yes, the Dallas store offers a selection of clothing and furniture, but now it also offers free HIV testing and is about to open a community pharmacy.

Just walk past the racks of brightly colored button up t-shirts and high-heeled shoes to get to the HIV testing area inside the Out of the Closet thrift store.

All you have to do is complete a basic questionnaire on one of the electronic kiosks and an HIV counselor will come get you to be tested. Results take one minute.

“We get probably anywhere from 12 to 15 people a day getting HIV testing, Tuesday through Saturday,” says Bret Camp. Camp is the Texas regional director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – that’s the nonprofit that operates Out of the Closet Thrift Stores across the country.

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News

Back in the ’90s, Camps says it would take three weeks to get the results from an HIV test. Studies have shown that some people don’t return after getting tested, so today’s speedy finger stick breaks down one barrier to treatment.

“The important thing about doing HIV testing in a setting like a thrift store,” Camps says, “is that allows people who may not access HIV testing through a conventional clinical setting and in order to have the impact on HIV prevention we need to have you need all the options.”

More than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and almost 20 percent don’t know they’re infected.

Dallas has the highest HIV infection per capita in the state. Many factors contribute to the high infection rate, including drug abuse, homelessness and using sex for survival. In Dallas County, more than 13,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS, representing an increase of 41 percent in more than nine years.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” Camp says. “But one infection is more than we really need to be seeing. And by testing and treating and offering options and linking people into health care it’s going to have the greatest impact in reducing HIV infection rates.”

A Pharmacy And A Dressing Room

The Dallas Out of the Closet will be the 22nd in the network to have both free HIV testing and a pharmacy.

“Our pharmacy will have everything from blood pressure meds to diabetes supplies,” Camp says. “It won’t be like any other pharmacy. How many places can you go and look at jeans while you’re waiting for your medication?”

It’s an innovative idea, says Douglas Owens, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who also serves on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

A number of organizations, including the CDC and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended universal HIV testing. Of course testing is only the first step, Owens says.

Credit AIDS Healthcare Foundation
AIDS Healthcare Foundation

“It’s important for people to get tested and in a way in that they can get connected to care and treated and counseled about HIV.”

Owens explains treating someone with HIV not only benefits that person, but the rest of the community because the drugs reduce their infectivity.

“So treatment for HIV not only benefits the person who has HIV but it also provides a very important public health benefit and that’s important.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.