Faces of HIV – Eleven

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“It was kind of hard transitioning from Ottawa to here because I was away from my family for fifteen years too because I was using. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve had contact with my family. I’ve reconnected with them now, now that I’ve stopped using. It was quite an experience. Trying to recognize the younger ones which are older now, I didn’t recognize their faces anymore. I lost touch with them because of my addiction plus I didn’t want them to know how severe my addiction was. I phoned home every once and a while, but they didn’t really know if I was alive or dead. It was quite hard for me. I ended up in jail in 2012. I phoned my sister and when she answered the phone she cried. I didn’t understand what she was crying for, but that made me look at myself and I said, ‘Okay, do I want to be back on the streets and still using or do I want to be with my family?’ I chose my family. So I went though a drug treatment course and did that for nine months then I ended up getting the train here and here I am today.”

“When I reconnected with my family, it was pretty overwhelming. Throughout the years I never cried. I lost my emotions—I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t know how to feel anymore and still today I don’t really know what my emotions are—it’s really hard. It’s hard for me to understand what emotions are because I don’t think I really felt them because I was always under the influence of something. For these past three years I’ve been really trying to work on myself and it’s been hard. I want to have a relationship again, but it’s hard because the only relationships that I had in my life were with addicts and alcoholics, but I want something different. I’m trying to put myself out there to have a different kind of relationship, but it’s hard. I feel it’s hard too because I have HIV so it’s scary to put it out there and let people know, but I’m learning to accept it. I’m undetectable and I’ve been taking my meds. I was infected with HIV in 2007 or 2008 … it’s hard for me to talk about time because, for so long, time had no essence in my life. Everyday was just a day to be homeless so I never really knew what time it was. There are a lot of things that I’m learning to do. It’s still hard for me to measure time. So I’m trying.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith

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Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.

The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.

The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.

All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI

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