HIV-AIDS organization vows to carry on after federal funding cut
A group that has worked with those living with HIV and AIDS for 25 years may be forced to cut services due to the elimination of federal funding, but staff and volunteers are promising to keep the doors open.
Among the Maison Plein Coeur volunteers who vowed to keep fighting is Gregg Rowe. Rowe was diagnosed in 1987 and doctors told him he only had six months to live.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I got lost, I went into a deep depression and I became an alcoholic. After six months, I was still alive and wondering what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Rowe would go on to found the first HIV-AIDS organization in Canada. Today, he not only volunteers at Maison Plein Coeur but lives there as well.
“They break the isolation for people living with HIV-AIDS and in the past, we were put into isolation,” he said. “We were stigmatized, we were stereotyped. Here, they’re opening up the doors and they are breaking those barriers.”
For 25 years, Maison Plein Coeur received almost $100,000 per year from Canada Public Health. Starting in April, the government will no longer provide that money.
Maison Plein Coeur funding director Chris Lau said the organization relies on that money.
“The population of people living with HIV in a city like Montreal is continuing to grow because of (medical advances), which is a wonderful thing,” he said. “But the need for an organization like us to exist is even more present than before.”
Maison Plein Coeur is launching a fundraising campaign on Friday Dec. 1, 2017, beginning with a wine and cheese open to the public.
Those advances mean the organizations goals have changed in recent years, according to outreach worker Roseleine Delva.
“At the beginning, it was about helping people die,” she said. “Now, it’s about helping people live, helping them integrate into society.”
Lau estimated that the organization helps 5,000 each year. The loss of the federal funds would represent a roughly 20 per cent in their annual budget and would significantly impact their services.
“Fewer individual meetings, fewer car accompaniments, fewer people we might be able to receive at the drop-in centre so people can break their isolation,” said Lau.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said it has prioritized prevention over support.
It said that its new HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund (CAF) “supports projects that have the potential to make the greatest impact through targeted prevention interventions focused on priority populations in Canada. These projects will focus on slowing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, decreasing the number of people who are unaware of their infections, increasing the number of people who are accessing treatment, and reducing the impact of stigma.”