Faces of HIV – Twenty Two

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I’ve worked here for almost five years, but I’ve worked in the system for thirty-five years. I used to be the Executive Director at the Bissell Centre for ten years and the YWCA in the women’s shelters, so I come from a community perspective. I believe in being a community advocate and I fundamentally believe in human rights and the issues around HIV are around social determinants of health and the rights of individuals and the access to proper education, information, treatment, all of that stuff.”

“I think the biggest piece for HIV Edmonton is around still thinking it’s only health. HIV Edmonton is much more than a health organization. It’s a community-based organization providing direct services and so we connect people to health services, we help them gain access and navigate and all sorts of things, but the organization isn’t just health. And that puts a barrier to funding which puts a barrier towards the continuation and expansion of education, prevention, and support, so it’s one of the barriers at getting to zero. It’s one of the barriers to addressing stigma. We have a huge number of partnerships with other organizations. All of the staff do community development work and we need to do more and more because it’s all about building the capacity within the community to learn something in a different way and deal with it in a different way. I always say HIV Edmonton is a small but mighty group. We’re a small group of only ten people, but we’re a mighty group and you have to be able to work smart and help people not only at the individual level, but also the community level to see where those barriers are.”

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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