Tag Archives: Faces of Edmonton

Faces of HIV – Thirty

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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In 1982, Ross Armstrong, a man described by his friend Charles Bidwell, as “full of playful spirit, comfortable in his own skin and so open in expressing himself,” earned his spot to swim for Canada in the first ever Gay Olympic Games. Ross won a silver medal in the 200 metre butterfly and was quoted saying, “There were no losers. The first and the last were cheered equally.” He also learned that organization combined with a political commitment is what produces mass awareness and supported action. This was the spirit of Ross, a man committed to honesty, integrity, and change.

In 1984, Ross Armstrong was diagnosed with AIDS, the first AIDS diagnosis in Edmonton. Shortly after his diagnosis, he became a part of the AIDS Network of Edmonton team (now known as HIV Edmonton), 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 their agency, the drop-in centre, the Ross Armstrong Centre. A safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal. Breakfast is served every Monday and Friday morning and lunch is served on Wednesdays. Ross Armstrong Week, held Monday and Friday in the middle of each month, provides access to grocery cards, health supplies (multi-vitamins and liquid meal replacement) and hygiene products (razors, shampoo, etc.).

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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Faces of HIV – Twenty Nine

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I was involved in organizing the first prayer vigil for people with AIDS. We held that in the chapel of the Edmonton General Hospital and we did prayers all night long. We scheduled people to be there and invited people to come pray for those who had AIDS and those who were affected by AIDS. This was in the initial years in the mid-eighties. I went away from this city in the year of 80/81 on a sabbatical from the university, and I had heard something about this rare condition that was being detected in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So when I came back to Edmonton from Texas, people were talking about people coming down with this condition called AIDS, where you don’t die of AIDS, you die from some condition that is acquired because of an immune system deficiency.”

“I used to play volleyball with the first person in Edmonton diagnosed with AIDS—Ross Armstrong. When he came down with it, he was put in the U of A hospital, where I worked. So I would go up to visit him everyday. And everyone was gloved and gowned and masked, and they really didn’t want to go into his room because they were afraid. They had no idea how this was transmitted so they would sort of put his tray of food into the room and then I would go in and visit him and bring his food tray to him. I would say, ‘Ross, I’m sorry I have to look like an alien, but it’s really to protect you from me giving you anything.’ So I would sit on the bed and hug him. Nobody was doing that. And, of course, he died. He was the first person in Edmonton to be publicly known to have AIDS.”

“Even my husband at the time, he came down with AIDS, and when he died in 1989, at his funeral, nobody would say that he had AIDS. We were just enraged. We fought to make it public so it would start being addressed. We had been together for seven years, and he was playing around, and for some reason I didn’t get it.”

“I was the minister of the Metropolitan Community Church and when the folks like Michael Phair got together and applied for a grant to do something about AIDS, they couldn’t receive the grant because they weren’t established as a not-for-profit organization, and they didn’t have charitable status and all the rest of this. I was a friend of Michael’s, so he asked if the church could take our cheque, and I said, ‘Yes.’ And then we paid whatever bills he submitted to us. So we enabled them to work for a year until they got their own not-for-profit. So yes, I was sort of in on the ground floor.”

“The one good thing that came from AIDS is that the community solidified and worked together to face this threat … There are some of us old farts still kicking around from back them, but we probably lost about a generation. As a minister, I did funerals, memorial services, and certainly talked to the people who had HIV. I didn’t get to talk to many parents because so many parents, when they found out their kid had AIDS, they were also finding out that their kid was gay, so they were so in shock that most of them didn’t want to talk to a minister.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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Faces of HIV – Twenty Seven

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“This year, I’m President of the board of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose (The Court). Every year when we elect a new monarch in August at the ball, they select two charities who they want to focus their fundraising efforts on, so HIV Edmonton is often one of the charities that is selected because of the work they do in the community and also of course because of the affect that HIV and AIDS has had on the LGBTQ community.“ “HIV Edmonton is celebrating thirty years of doing amazing things in the community. The Court is celebrating its forty years this year, making it one the longest running LGBTQ organizations in Canada. HIV Edmonton and The Court has always had a very close relationship.” “The biggest challenge is apathy because HIV is now treatable. Especially youth often think that they don’t need condoms anymore since HIV doesn’t come with that death sentence … I think the benefit of The Court is that we can reach people that maybe HIV Edmonton doesn’t, like at the bar. And we’ve done a lot of work with youth groups over the years. Hopefully together we can make it clear that HIV hasn’t gone away and it is a life changer.” “Having worked in a bar, I know so many young kids who just won’t use condoms because they think it’s not that important. You’ve got a generation now that is a generation removed from the gay men of the eighties who were at funerals every week. I have a friend who just found out this week that he had contracted. It wasn’t the devastation that I would have expected. I had one HIV scare in the nineties and I was horrified. I couldn’t sleep for the ten days leading up to the results. But he wasn’t that freaked out and he didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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Faces of HIV – Twenty Six

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“Street works has always been about HIV prevention. It is a program that’s run by a council of agencies. HIV Edmonton has been the chair of that committee  for at least fifteen years, so we’ve always been closely tied. Here at Street Works, we target folks who are using injection drugs or who are involved in the street-based sex trade, particularly around HIV and Hepatitis C.”

“We’ve been very lucky to have great collaboration between places like HIV Edmonton, and the Northern Alberta clinic and Street Works and Boyle-Mccauley Health Centre. All of these organizations, we work together really well and I think we can wrap people who are feeling a little lost and marginalized, because of their HIV, in a big hug of trying to give people support and the right kinds of services, right. We don’t overlap on our services. We each are different, but we see the value in working together, I think that’s really key.”

“I’ve worked at the Boyle Street Community Centre for twenty-one years, so I’ve actually watched a lot of people grow up here … There’s been some really great parts of that, but it’s kind of sad too because you don’t want people to be here forever. A lot of people have moved on, but some I’ve known since they were tiny kids.”

“I’m a registered nurse. I love cross-cultural nursing in general and street culture is one that I absolutely love. I think one of my biggest compliments was when one of our guys came up and asked me when I quit using, and I thought, ‘Cool, I look like I use drugs, that’s really great! It’s the hair probably. But I think it was more because I can integrate fairly easily now, which I really like. I always get upset by the idea that service providers have to have strict boundaries and you can’t let anyone know anything about you—this is a community, so we all need to get to know each other. The other thing is we have great staff. I love mentoring. I love their great ideas and excitement”

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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Faces of HIV – Twenty Five

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I was thirty-six when I was diagnosed. I guess for me, what it’s meant is it delayed my life a lot. I thought I was going to be dead. I had little kids … Now, my daughter has a law degree, she opened her own business, then she got elected in Calgary and now she’s the Minister of the Alberta Status of Women and Services. On World AIDS Day, my daughter had the opportunity to do a speech at the Alberta Legislature and she introduced me, her mother. It was a very touching speech. She almost started to cry because she said she remembers wondering if her mom was going to die. I know what she lived through. If her mom would have been diagnosed with breast cancer, she could have had the support of her teachers, friends and neighbours, but she had to worry about them finding out. I’m sure you’ve had friends come stay overnight. But if the parents found out that the mother was positive, do you think they’d ever come back again? I think people still don’t get that there are people out there who’ve lived this totally alone their whole life. They still don’t talk about it or tell people, they’re still afraid of it.”

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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Faces of HIV – Twenty Four

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I’m Chair of the HIV Edmonton board. I’m gay so this is a cause that speaks to me because of my community. It’s a good organization that unfortunately has a lot of stigma with it still and so it needs people stepping up to help the organization drive forward its mission and its mandate. The organization has always been well run and people are passionate about the work they’re doing. From that perspective, it’s easy to engage with since the staff are passionate and they do really good work. It’s small but mighty.”

“What’s one of the biggest challenges?”

“Money. Funding, like any non-profit. We’re not unique in that sense. There’s a growing expectation of what we could and should be doing, and so we’re always having to make tough choices about where to focus our energy. Funding levels have stayed relatively static over the last few years. It’s tough … The younger generation is blaisé about AIDS because it’s that generation that knows about AIDS through TV shows. They think that because the treatment is a pill, what’s the big deal—I can go and have fun.”

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.

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Faces of HIV – Twenty Three

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“We need something set up to protect and to treat people. If we tested everyone, our HIV rates would go through the roof in Canada, at least initially. But then we could get them on treatment—we could actually do something. Treatment as prevention works, you know, people become undetectable and it’s not going to be everybody, that’s just really difficult to imagine, but we could get so much closer. But right now as grassroots activists and as a community, there’s only so much we can do, and I guess that’s why now I feel it’s time again to go more politically.”

“HIV is the one disease that people get blamed for—if they hadn’t done this or if they would have done that—you know there’s already so much shame that to shame people for a virus or disease, it’s just inhumane. I think it’s because people don’t see themselves in the HIV picture … Someone asked me once why more people don’t get tested, and I think it’s fear. People are afraid of what they don’t know and they react out of fear. So if we could normalize some of that, people might feel they’re in a safer place so if they found out they were (HIV positive), they might not feel that their world were coming to an end. It can be something that they can manage and live with. Yes, their life will look different, but they wouldn’t feel that their life is over.”

“The reason I’m so passionate about it and that vision of zero is because we are a cause where we can get there. We’re so close, I can see it. It’s partly what keeps me going, but it’s also so utterly frustrating … It’s so close but we don’t have any political will. There’s the politics of everything that goes along with HIV, so that’s the politics of harm reduction that makes people uncomfortable and sex that makes people uncomfortable and the spectrum of gender and the spectrum of orientation. All of these things make people so uncomfortable, and it’s that discomfort I feel that often drives so much of that stigma. And I feel like there’s a fear politically for people to get involved, that if they get involved it might not be popular.”

“When I started working in HIV, it was condoms—here, use these. Now … we have treatment as prevention, we’ve got sexual health information. I feel like we’re at this place where we were getting closer and then it’s like everybody said it’s not really a big deal anymore, like, okay, there’s treatment now and somehow that’s enough. It’s frustrating because it’s the one disease that I can see the end to; it’s preventable, we understand how it works, we understand how to treat it, and we know that just by treating it, you are stopping onward transmission. Those are huge things. Other causes would do anything to have that. What’s missing is that political will and that ability to have someone say this matters and these lives matter and we’re going to invest in this because we can get there and then we can focus on something else.”

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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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

————————————————————————–

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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Faces of HIV – Twenty One

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I came to HIV Edmonton for the first time when I found out I had HIV. It was in 2010. I came here and everything started from there. You know, I got my doctors, all the health team helped, and housing later on and all the programs—so you stay involved so you’re not out there doing bad things too much. They’re doing lots of things to help. From the start, I was involved with the cooking class program here. We’ve got that twice a month and it helps a lot. It’s mostly the same people, but we get new ones in too. We also do visiting stuff and talks.”

“For sure the biggest challenge is the stigma. It gets easier for yourself everyday but with other people, it sometimes feels that you never get ahead. When you first get diagnosed, you feel really weird and bad. You feel different and alone. But then eventually it gets better, after three or five years, and you don’t feel that as much anymore. But in the community, you know, we don’t talk too loud about it. Even though we move ahead, the community doesn’t. But that’s life, right?”

“The best part is the education about it. The more people know about HIV and AIDS, the easier it will get. I do talks to youth in trouble and to Grant McEwan health people. It helps for them to understand more and they are the future so that’s positive.”

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.

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Faces of HIV – Twenty

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“I work as a researcher in the HIV field. HIV Edmonton is a really important partner in the research that I do. A lot of the people that I work with and my research participants are connected with HIV Edmonton is some way. HIV Edmonton has always been an agency that does incredibly important advocacy work.

“What are some of the core challenges you face in your research related to HIV?”

“The discrimination and stigma continue to be the greatest challenges. They have been from the beginning and they continue to be an incredible burden and challenge. The other piece is the ignorance to the complexities of the lives that people live. Often things get oversimplified—it’s just about meds, or safe sex—but they’re really not recognizing the structural issues. Poverty is connected and HIV does not affect people equally, so I think it’s ignorance to that kind of complexity. We are pushing to do prevention efforts but also we find that it’s challenging to keep engaging people in treatment because of the longevity of the disease. It isn’t just about taking meds. That’s a fraction of the complexity.”

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

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