By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton
“I started coming to HIV Edmonton in 2009. I keep coming back for the cooking classes every second Thursday. They take us out shopping: they show us what to buy, give us recipes, and teach us how to cook. It’s all about food because a lot of guys go hungry. So they try to fatten us up which is good, right. Once a month we do a movie night. They order pizza and we sit and watch a movie. It’s pretty good. Here, it’s like family. Nobody judges and no one discriminates, but when you go out into the real world, people find out that you have HIV and they back away from you. I don’t like that. It’s kind of sad that it’s still like that today … We’re all friends here. I like that. I have three daughters and several grand kids. They all know I have HIV, and they don’t judge me or throw it in my face. But the rest of my family isn’t like that. It pisses me off.”
“This place has been good to me. I like coming here it gets me out of the house. I also go to a sharing circle here every Wednesday afternoon. This is a good place. We can use the computer anytime we want and they have a free phone I can use to phone family or make doctor’s appointments. The staff is all caring. If you’re feeling down, you can talk to anybody here. When I feel down I have to talk to someone. I take my meds everyday and it gets sickening after awhile—it’s depressing. I just take four pills but that’s everyday for the rest of my life. Sometimes I get frustrated and I stop taking my meds and then I talk to my doctor and she says, ‘You can’t do that.’ And then they have to change the dosage. But I’m doing pretty good, my HIV is undetectable. I have hepatitis C as well and I’m hoping to start that treatment in August.”
Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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