living with HIV – HIV Community Link https://hivcl.org Your resource for HIV prevention, support and advocacy Thu, 12 Jul 2018 22:44:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 Rolling it Forward! https://hivcl.org/2018/04/20/rolling-it-forward/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 22:41:37 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=4857 Read More]]>

The following blog was written by a member of the Women’s Peer Support Group. It presents the candid and personal perspective of an incredible individual who wishes to encourage other people living with HIV to access support programs and talk to others about their experiences. Get in touch at (403) 508-2500 EXT. 106 or at email peer@hivcl.org if you want to join one of the Peer groups at HIV Community Link.

Being HIV positive still seems like a gift to me in many ways. After I immigrated to Calgary, Alberta in March 2017, I registered with HIV Community Link through their Drumbeat program. The Drumbeat program addresses HIV in the African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) communities. Being involved with HIV Community Link has given me life again. I found a supportive team and I love the way I feel now. HIV community Link has given me a chance to work and also share my experience of living with HIV.

I now volunteer for HIV Community Link as a Peer Facilitator for their Women’s Peer Support Group, Positive Connections. This is a new program for women living with HIV, we meet once a month and share our stories, challenges, hopes and successes. It feels good to be doing something for my community and being surrounded by other HIV positive women, we talk freely and have fun.

On World AIDS Day 2017, I decided to be open and disclosed my status. I was fully supported by HIV Community Link and since then I felt so much freedom, which has been a healing process for me. I also want to make sure through education and prevention work that HIV never happens to anyone else.

I would like to share an experience I recently had at the clinic, which relates to the stigma around HIV in the African/Black community. I noticed that there were not that many African/Black people who are HIV positive accessing support programs. When I asked the social worker at the clinic the reason behind this, she stated that many people from the African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) community do not feel comfortable showing their identity (will cover their head with a scarf and wear sunglasses) when picking up medication or attending medical appointments. I reached out to someone from this community and they told me that the ACB community is very small and people living with HIV fear that people within their community will find out and gossip. Also, that within our community it’s better to have cancer than to deal with the stigma associated with HIV. This breaks my heart.

I hope that this blog will reach out to people, especially from ACB community living with HIV and know that they are not alone. We need to break this silence.

I will keep writing about my experience and break this stigma it’s only through education that we can battle this enemy, so it does not destroy our future generations.

Sincerely,

Stella

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Join Our HIV Support Women’s Program! https://hivcl.org/2018/02/15/join-our-hiv-support-womens-program/ Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:22:23 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=4695 Read More]]>

After much planning and developing, our new Peer Support Program at HIV Community Link is rolling out a Women Support Group starting this month on February 21st, 2018. Every person has unique experiences concerning their HIV status. To be able to come together with fellow women going through similar things and connect with one another can be such a powerful and supportive experience.

Learning how to live with HIV and navigate life does not have to be overwhelming and no one has to do it alone. No one understands the reality of HIV better than someone who lives with it every day. Within the Peer Support Group, there are women who have learned to cope with the daily realities of living with HIV and women who are just beginning this journey.

The Women’s Peer Support Group does not offer clinical therapy but the means of providing an opportunity to build a social network, support one another, relate to other women, a chance to celebrate our daily successes, and to explore our challenges. Each person has the opportunity to be teacher or student within this group setting that is also facilitated by a woman living with HIV. Learning from one another and offering support to each other can also be a process of healing.

There will continue to be the well-established and incredible Peer Support Group called Plus Friends that meets once a month on the last Tuesday of each month, and the Women will name their group this month and solidify the meeting dates and times for a once per month meeting going forward. This is such an exciting step in our community. If interested in registering or accessing more information, please email peer@hivcl.org!

Jody Tomm
Team Lead, Support Services
Pronouns: she/her/hers
HIV Community Link

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I AM STELLA https://hivcl.org/2017/11/26/4441/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 23:51:55 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=4441 Read More]]>  A story of resilience in the face of domestic abuse and HIV stigma
Stella is an African woman who immigrated to Canada early this year as an asylum seeker. The 48-year-old woman landed in Calgary on March 23, 2017, coming from Uganda. Soon after, Stella found a community of support through HIV Community Link. Here, she got involved with Drumbeat, our program supporting people from African Communities, and with the HIV Support Services team.
Stella was born and raised in Uganda, and in her early years lived a relatively average life. She got married young and happily raised two daughters. On November 29, 2000, her life changed significantly. She recounts vivid memories of how she learned of her HIV diagnosis on that day: “I went to the hospital not suspecting I’d leave with an HIV diagnosis. I had had a cough for 6 months. They called me the next day saying the doctor had to see me. There was a 15-minute walk from my home to the hospital, but it took me an hour to get there. He said: ‘I have bad news.’ That was all I heard from what the doctor told me that day.” well-spoken Stella says other family members with similar symptoms had died before her diagnosis. They were also married and their partners didn’t want to reveal the cause, but Stella believes they died of AIDS-related illnesses.

After finding out she was HIV positive, she went home and refused to accept it. “I was in denial; I didn’t know anything about HIV and I had all these questions about how my husband and children would take it,” says Stella. After four months, she realized she needed to deal with it. The hardest thing for her was telling her husband. “He was furious; he started to call me names and turned against me. He blamed my family and blamed me,” she remembers. Stella’s husband left her and moved to the family farm. “I had to keep quiet because of the stigma and because my husband had warned me not to tell anybody. I still have this question: who is responsible? Up to today, I haven’t had a conversation about HIV with my husband,” Stella says.

And there she was. Alone. With no money for medication or help to look after her children, her health rapidly got worse. Seeing her desperation, her sister offered to help, and supported Stella to access treatment for her HIV.

With access to medical treatment, Stella regained her strength and went back to her job in hospitality. After some time of feeling strong and healthy she stopped taking the treatment, thinking she was strong enough and didn’t need the medication anymore. But she soon found herself in the hospital again, this time diagnosed with cancer. Once again, her family came together to support her. Her brother-in-law, an influential government leader in Uganda, convinced her husband to come back home and avoid family shame. Stella remembers that moment with mixed feelings. “I was week, sad; I was planning my funeral really. I went through radiation and all. But the family supported me; cancer was better news than HIV for most of the people around me. There was a lot of stigma surrounding HIV.” Asked if she remembers how stigma feels like, Stella talks about the incredible pain she felt when her husband abandoned her sick, with an HIV diagnosis she didn’t know how to cope with. “I’m back from that pain, I’m on treatment now, I am back to my normal weight, I’m smiling; I’m Stella,” she adds.

As the years passed, Stella recognized the importance of her HIV treatment in maintaining her health, and she began to thrive. She became a support person for other people living with HIV in her community. “I decided to give back to my community, especially to the women. Maybe somebody out there is like me; has a husband who is completely in denial and they are fighting it all alone,” she explains, adding that helping others was the therapy that had helped her to keep going.  For the next 15 year, Stella offered support to women in her community; she helped in any way she could, from lending a compassionate ear to driving them to the hospital. There were many women who couldn’t afford treatment or didn’t know anything about HIV.

Then, last November, Stella’s life turned upside down. She made the shocking discovery that her husband had another wife, whom he had hidden from her. Stella recounts how after confronting her husband about this second wife she endured months of physical abuse and threats. “My journey is a bit sad,” says Stella. “I left my home behind, after I found out my husband had another wife. Within a month, things changed dramatically. We fought. He chased me out of my house. I couldn’t see my children. He was trying to get rid of me because we were sharing some property.” Her husband started beating her constantly. One night, close to New Year’s, the abuse escalated and she decided she had to run. “I lost my front tooth that night. My sister came and took me to the hospital. He found me there too, and threatened me not to tell anybody about the beatings. My sister convinced me to leave, she was afraid I was going to die.”

My sister helped me escape. I ran through Kenya and came here,” the well-spoken woman continues.

Stella spoke of the support she received from the women’s organizations that she had worked with. They helped her to come to Canada, leaving behind her two daughters who are enrolled in university in Uganda. Once here, she built another network of support in which HIV Community Link plays an important role. “Since I came to HIV Community Link, my life has changed. I’ve gone through counselling, I have food, information, I come to trainings and I feel supported,” she explains. Stella says she wants to continue giving back and help others in her situation, so when the opportunity came about to be a Peer Mentor for the HIV Community Link Peer Support program, she decided to get involved. “Sharing my experience has helped me to keep going. Here in Canada, I feel accepted. I can reject the HIV stigma because I am stronger. I am Stella.”

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Gavin Walks for Awareness: “My HIV Status Doesn’t Define Me” https://hivcl.org/2017/08/29/gavin-walks-for-awareness-my-hiv-status-doesnt-define-me/ Tue, 29 Aug 2017 22:42:25 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=4015 Read More]]>  Gavin is 29 and just finished his first year of university after being out of high school for ten years. He struggled with alcohol addiction, but stopped drinking six years ago. Gavin has lived in Calgary most of his life. “I’ve only disclosed my HIV status to some of my family. More because I don’t feel that I could trust my parents not to really worry about it. They don’t have a lot of education and information about HIV and how it’s like living with the virus, they will worry for me,” says Gavin with a small, but sad smile.

He was diagnosed six months after he managed to stop drinking. “I went to the doctor and I thought I’d be happy to find out I had a great bill of health for the first time in a long time for not drinking. They called me and asked me to come in but wouldn’t say why. I knew I had been tested for HIV, and that was a dead giveaway as to a why they wanted to see me” remembers Gavin.

But that wasn’t the hardest conversation he had that day. “With my drinking, I had been deluding myself on how often I was actually getting tested. I always thought it wasn’t too long a time since I had last been tested. I would tell myself ‘ I can go next month,’ but in hindsight and in sobriety, the months between testing kept getting longer and longer. Looking back, 3 months had turned into a year between tests” says Gavin. He had had condomless sex with one partner, and he wanted to talk with that person on the day he found about his HIV status. They were still good friends. “It was incredibly awkward and terrible. Even though that person was upset, he handled it with grace. He went and got tested again and again. The tests turned out negative, and that was good. We are still good friends today.”

Gavin  advocates for safer sex and the use of condoms

The stigma, strong and inescapable, came after that first shock. Gavin was talking to a nurse on a dating app for men who have sex with men where he disclosed he was positive, that he had been on treatment for a couple of years and had an undetectable viral load. “It’s a conflict of interest to have sex with you because I work in a hospital, the guy told me. For somebody in the medical profession, a gay man especially, to have so much stigma around HIV in this day and age, with the education that we have, it’s ridiculous. Undetectable means untransmittable. I also always advocate for safer sex and the use of condoms now. So using condoms, knowing my status, and having an undetectable viral load makes a sexual encounter with me far less risky than the many people who don’t know their status. My friends have experienced similar situations too. It is really upsetting that your status is used against you.” After several experiences like this, Gavin has begun to screen who he discloses his status to. “I don’t show my face online until I chat with the person and understand what they think about HIV,” he explains.

Gavin is now studying to be a nurse, and believes doctors and health care providers should be more educated about HIV and offer HIV testing routinely. “My last year of drinking was really bad. During that period, I went to the emergency, because I was sick, I had a fever that had been going on for a couple of days and not getting any better. My white blood count was out of whack, but the doctors decided that I was severely stresses and not taking good care of myself. They said it’s likely just due to my drinking and that I needed to take time off work. I wasn’t offered an HIV test, but I wish they would have asked me. It’s not like I would have said no,” says Gavin, who always encourages his friends and people in his community to get tested regularly.

HIV Community Link helps me feel “normal”

Gavin was in junior high when he started drinking. “It wasn’t a huge trauma that led me to drink. As a kid, I felt isolated and didn’t really feel that I belonged. Even though I was liked by a lot of people, I was always trying so hard to fit in. I had that feeling of being on the outside all the time,” says Gavin. Drinking “switched” that feeling, he explains, as it worked as a social lubricant. For a few years, he was able to reduce the frequency of his drinking, mostly because of financial constraints. In his teens, Gavin was dating guys in their mid to late 20’s, “because there were no gay friends to talk to or socialize with in my age group”, Gavin explains, adding that it wasn’t a healthy environment for a 16 year old. These older partners encouraged harmful behaviors and Gavin felt he had to validate his worth to them sexually. Gavin has now been in a happy relationship for the last two years.

“Most days, I’m OK. Being committed to helping other people really helps me to stay away from drinking and other behaviors. I volunteer and I am a part of a community that helps high-risk populations, supporting people who are going through the same struggles of being queer. I work with youth, LGTBQ specifically.”

Sharing your experiences with other people who are living with HIV can be very therapeutic, Gavin says. HIV Community Link has helped him be aware of the resources available in the community, and helps him feel “normal” . Meeting other positive people and listening to their experiences has made him understand that his HIV status doesn’t define him. “As much as it is a part of me, being positive isn’t going to be a barrier to achieving anything,” Gavin concludes.

On September 17, Gavin will be walking alongside other HIV Community Link supporters to raise awareness of HIV and funds for HIV programming in his community.

You too can register and fundraise for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk Calgary at scotiabankaidswalk.ca/calgary. Join us today and make a difference!

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February 7 is African, Caribbean & Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day https://hivcl.org/2017/02/06/february-7-is-national-black-hivaids-awareness-day/ Mon, 06 Feb 2017 17:06:37 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=3347 Read More]]> Start a conversation. Know your health options. End the stigma!

On Tuesday, February 7, HIV Community Link joins the Canadian HIV and AIDS Black, African and Caribbean Network (CHABAC) in celebrating National African, Caribbean & Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. CHABAC’s vision is to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) population in Canada.

HIV Community Link’s Drum Beat program is proud partner with CHABAC to celebrate this day in Calgary, as one of two regional hubs in Alberta. The awareness day will raise awareness of the unique strengths and challenges faced by the ACB community response to HIV.

ACB communities represent 2.5% of the Canadian population yet they represent 16% of the epidemic. Statistics continue to show a steady increase in the numbers of individuals testing positive from ACB communities. One in 7 people living with HIV in Canada is from the ACB population.

In 2014, the rates of HIV among ACB were about 6 times higher than among other Canadians. There are various factors that put this population at higher risk, such as the experiences and impact of racism and discrimination, and those based on gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. These factors affect access to information, resources and services, as well as opportunities for making health related decisions. (Falconer, 2005; PHAC 2009)

Through Drum Beat, HIV Community Link reaches out to Calgary’s ACB community to raise HIV awareness through community education on prevention, testing and treatment, and by addressing the issue of stigma.

Drum Beat provides education in a variety of ACB venues and gathering places including churches, barbershops, post-secondary institutions, markets,  community associations and  immigrant service organizations.

This year’s guest speaker at the awareness day is Robert Bardston, a strong HIV activist for the ACB community. Robert is a long-term survivor of HIV and is also a national co-chair of CHABAC. Robert will speak about being a black man living and aging with HIV and the challenges faced by ACB people living with HIV. Robert Bardston is an accomplished international cellist and will play some pieces on his beloved cello at the event.

The event will be held at HIV Community Link’s office located at 110, 1603 10 Ave SW. Calgary and will start at 3:30pm.

The 2017 theme of this awareness day is: Start a conversation. Know your health options. End the stigma. Join us!

Feb7 - Awareness Day

 

 

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My dad died ashamed. The world would just be a better place without the stigma and the fear of HIV https://hivcl.org/2016/11/24/my-dad-died-ashamed-the-world-would-just-be-a-better-place-without-the-stigma-and-the-fear-of-hiv/ Thu, 24 Nov 2016 16:47:49 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=3271 Read More]]> Rae-Leigh’s family has farmed for generations. She has continued this family tradition, currently running a small farm in Tilley, Alberta for 15 years. She had “an average Canadian dad”, she says. He was educated, successful, handsome, outgoing, and had lots of friends. Rae-Leigh’s parents divorced after 33 years of marriage, and her father took the opportunity to have a fresh start, traveling the world. At some point during his travels, he contracted HIV. “He didn’t disclose his status to anybody, including his family physician, his family, to anybody, because he was so ashamed and so embarrassed. So he just chose to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t a real concern,” says Rae-Leigh.

During the Christmas season in 2012, Rae-Leigh got a call from her father. He was in Thailand at the time and told Rae-Leigh that he was not well, and that they thought he had PML, a rare brain disease. He was having trouble eating, he was dropping things and he was shaky with his coffee cup. Terrified of needles, he asked his daughter to come to Thailand, to support him through a spinal tap. Confused and afraid for her father, Rae-Leigh says she was shocked. She hung up the phone and went on the internet. “I found out on Google that PML occurs almost exclusively in patients with severe immune deficiency, most commonly among patients with AIDS.”

When Rae-Leigh was reunited with her father at the Bangkok Airport, she hardly recognized him. He was thin; dragging his legs, and couldn’t move his arms. “I went to give him a hug and he recoiled, saying ‘Don’t touch me’.” The next day, she had a similar experience with her father as they were walking to a restaurant to have dinner. ”He lost his balance, he ran into a vendors table and cut himself. “He just wanted me to get away from him and he started crying. He was this big, handsome man sitting in this restaurant just sobbing. That was when he told me he was HIV positive,” remembers Rae-Leigh. Because of the stigma and misinformation around HIV, her father was afraid for her to even touch him.

“You’ve got a white heterosexual man in his 60’s. He doesn’t have HIV – that was the assumption”

Having done her research, Rae-Leigh knew there was good treatment for HIV. “I was just hoping to fix it,” she says. Rae-Leigh was surprised once again by their visit with the doctors the next day. It was then that they confirmed he had PML and told them he had three weeks to live. Her father had delayed treatment so long that his AIDS-related illness had taken over. “He didn’t have any education as to what HIV was; he just assumed it was a death sentence and he thought everybody would blame him because of his lifestyle. He also was stigmatizing himself and it was awful for him.”

He started to have seizures so it was hard to get him home to Canada, and once they did return, his family physician, who had been delivering his care for 15 years was shocked to find out that her client was HIV positive. Rae-Leigh thinks that they didn’t bother to offer him an HIV test because of his age and his demographic. “You’ve got a white heterosexual man in his 60’s. He doesn’t have HIV – that was the assumption.”

Her father started treatment, but because he was so ill, he had to be hospitalized in Saskatchewan. He spent the last of six months embarrassed, ashamed, stigmatized, and he didn’t want anybody to know about his condition. “He would ask for me to bring him whipping cream so he wouldn’t lose weight so people didn’t think he was dying of AIDS.”

They gave him a plastic fork and knife and put a sign on the back of his wheelchair”

The stigma was even worse when he left the hospital and went to live at a long-term care home. His family first moved him to a private care facility which they thought would be ideal. He had his own room and there were doctors and nurses on call 24 hours a day. “It seemed like it would be more like a family atmosphere, because all he wanted to do was just to go home and die,” says Rae-Leigh, who was driving from Brooks to Saskatchewan twice a week to see her father. “One day, I found him eating at a cart table facing the wall in the dining room. All the other people were eating at the family table and being served and he had a plastic fork and a knife. And on the back of his wheelchair was a sign saying ‘Caution AIDS’,” remembers Rae-Leigh.

She moved him into another care home, but the stigma continued. “This time, they had a big sign on his door with the biohazard symbol. There was a cart by his door with gloves, a mask and everything. They were very impatient; nobody seemed to want to help him,” says Rae-Leigh, who ended up going to the nursing home every week to advocate for her father.

I want the stigma to stop. He wouldn’t have been so embarrassed, he would have sought treatment, and he would be here”

Her father died in a third nursing home, six months after that call on Christmas.

He died ashamed and embarrassed. “I’m advocating, not for him, but for everybody else. We sat in the same waiting room at the hospital and we saw other men in their 60’s and 70’s who were positive, and they were so ashamed” says Rae-Leigh. They are farmers, who don’t fit the stereotypes, so don’t think it could happen to them. When it does, they are horrified, embarrassed and so ashamed. Everybody in their peer group is afraid of them and their caregivers don’t have the education and are afraid of them also. We need to stop being so afraid,” she says.

“I’m a 40-something mom and, in my circle, we assume that the face of HIV is not my father. This is a risk to everybody and we need to work on ending the stigma. I have a friend who has been living with HIV for 20 years, he plays soccer and recently somebody found out about his HIV and didn’t want him on their team this year. The world would just be a better place if we could figure out a way to stop the fear. Nobody would be afraid to hug a person and we would all be better people.”

Join us  on December 1, 2016, on World AIDS Day, for our annual Community Voices event. This year, the event will feature Luminous VoicesCalgary Men’s Chorusand One Voice Chorus and the emcee is Mike Morrison from Mike’s Bloggity Blog. Rae-Leigh will be there to share her story and talk about the stigma surrounding HIV. More information available here.
You can buy your tickets by clicking here

 

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Make an Impact. Help Us Prevent Transmission of HIV! https://hivcl.org/2016/11/23/make-an-impact-help-us-prevent-transmission-of-hiv/ Wed, 23 Nov 2016 18:46:17 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=3251 Read More]]> Dear Friend, ­­­

December 1 is World AIDS Day, the international day to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic and to remember those who have died of AIDS related illnesses. This year, the theme for World AIDS Day 2016 is Hands Up for HIV Prevention, and your support can go further than ever to help us prevent transmission of HIV.­­

HIV Community Link’s mission is to ensure wellness for individuals and communities affected by HIV and hepatitis C through prevention, education and support. We work with individuals and communities using a harm reduction approach, and are committed to ending the associated stigma and discrimination. Our vision is to empower choices, engage communities and end transmission.

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So many of our clients need support this year and we want to help as many as we can. Your donation will help us to enhance the wellness of all of our long term clients and support those who are newly diagnosed. Even a small contribution can make an impact:

  •         $50 will provide one-on-one supportive counseling to a person living with HIV ­­­
  •         $100 provides warm winter toques and mittens to 20 of our outreach clients
  •         $300 allows us to organize a nutrition workshop for people living with HIV to learn how to prepare nutritious, cost-effective meals
  •         $500 will help 25 of our clients with their basic needs such as food and hygiene supplies

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Today your gift will have double the impact. A generous anonymous donor is matching all donations dollar for dollar up to $15,000 for any donations received before December 31, 2016. Please take advantage of this opportunity to make your gift go twice as far! Thank you in advance on behalf of those who will benefit from your generosity,

Leslie Hill
Executive Director­­­­­­

 

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On a Friday Outreach https://hivcl.org/2016/10/07/on-a-friday-outreach/ Fri, 07 Oct 2016 16:59:30 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=3115 Read More]]> It’s Friday, 1pm, and the Positive Living lunch for our clients is just getting started downstairs, in the drop-in space. It’s pretty crowded today, and I’m waiting for Waylon and Chelsea to finish their conversations with the people in the room so that we can leave. I’m going with them on outreach; I’ve always wanted to understand what that means.

We meet with John in front of the Kahanoff Centre, near the Calgary Tower. He works as the Aboriginal Outreach Coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association and he does outreach every Friday with Chelsea and Waylon. Chelsea, who is part of Shift, HIV Community Link’s program for people in the sex industry, also goes on outreach with John on Mondays. Chelsea stands out from the four of us, all wearing dark clothes, with her rainbow hair.

As we set out I notice that there are a group of men standing across the street. Chelsea tells me that this is known as “cash corner” and that they are all looking for work. If they are lucky, somebody will pick them up and pay them cash for casual labour, unqualified work. There are more and more people waiting there because of the recession, Chelsea tells me. As we’re walking by, I can count more than 15.

John comes out of the building carrying a trolley. He keeps food hampers in it to hand them out to people living on the streets. “I usually take ten with me,” he says, “Fifteen if I’m really ambitious. Beans – that’s what they like best.” John explains to me what’s in the food hamper.

The outreach workers hand out food that is easy to eat on the streets – cans of tuna or sardines with pop-tops, popcorn, something to drink and they really like sweets. Waylon has his own backpack with snacks, harm reduction items, transit tickets and even Tim’s cards for a hot meal for those who really need it. Food and basic necessities are the best way to create a connection and to work with the people they meet on the streets. Right now, the outreach workers are low on underwear and socks, but they have gloves to give out.

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“Care for a food hamper?” asks John the guy under the bridge at the next block. His name is also John and Chelsea starts talking to him about Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. Chelsea has known him for a while now; he’s been trying to get this disability payment, known as AISH, for two years. They talk while the other John gives him food and a pair of gloves. Winter is coming. More people are joining us. One of them, a woman with blonde hair, also knows Chelsea. This woman was homeless not that long ago and had addiction problems, things Chelsea has experienced herself. Chelsea’s experience helps when she is doing outreach and she is so good at understanding their problems. Just as we are leaving, the blonde girl gives Chelsea a yellow rose. “We were talking about a common friend. He died of a Fentanyl overdose. She wanted me to have the flower to remember our dear friend.” On Wednesdays, Chelsea does outreach together with Grateful or Dead, a local organization working with people who use drugs.

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Close to Olympic Plaza, John stops to hug one of the statues in the park. He is funny that way. Sitting on a bench at the Olympic Plaza, a guy in coveralls gets really excited about the food. He starts talking about how hard it is to find a place to sleep. You can feel his anger as he swears every couple of seconds. All three outreach workers listen. As we leave, they talk about the anger of the guy in coveralls and how partnering up to do outreach together promotes safety.

56We get to the Safe Communities Opportunity and Resource Centre, SORCe as everybody knows it. Here, people can access programs and services like housing, employment, and for their mental health and addiction issues. Waylon leaves a bunch of cards about his Strong Voices program, an HIV Community Link program dedicated to Aboriginal people. SORCe is a hub, a group of service providers that came together to help people navigate the system. All those behind the check-in desks are from these organizations and they take turns helping out with assessments and referrals. There are a lot of resources to read and take with you, so Waylon leaves even more about with information on where you can get tested for HIV. He also leaves free condoms, which he does everywhere he goes.

As we get closer to the Calgary Drop-In Centre, we can see a lot of people waiting to get in. They have a space inside where people looking for a place to sleep can wait, but that’s often full, Waylon explains. On a Friday outreach, Waylon usually meets with four or five of his clients that he offers case management to, whom Waylon spends a lot of his time with. He helps them with referrals, basic needs, housing applications and with anything that helps them meet their goals. Waylon encourages them to get treatment or to keep taking their meds for HIV. Waylon tells me that earlier this year, one of his long term homeless clients died from AIDS-related illnesses.

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On the river pathway, John hands out three more food hampers to some young African guys sitting on a bench. Sometimes, Waylon and John load John’s truck and go further down the river, in parks, where homeless people set up camps, or in suburbs. “The homelessness is scattered all over the city. When winter comes, some of them leave for Vancouver and come back in the spring,” Waylon says. If it’s HIV prevention or basic needs like food and gloves, it all goes back to helping them. “Why do I do this? Because of redemption. I’m honouring the promise I made 17 years ago, when I was going through the 12-Step program. It’s like I’m being paid to give back,” he tells me.

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We meet more people on our way through the downtown. Close to Stephen Ave, a homeless man is singing the buskers’ area, his busking permit visible in his guitar case. His dog is as friendly as he is and they both pose for a picture. Just a couple of steps down the road, a girl with her dog is playing a guitar with a broken string. She is really grateful for our help – she now has some transit tickets in the guitar case, and she opens a juice box offered by the outreach workers, gulping it down. But the girl is really worried that her dog is thirsty too, so Chelsea goes into one of the restaurants nearby and comes back with a plastic box full of clear water. The girl with the broken string gets the last of the ten food hampers. Our Friday outreach is over.

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“HIV is preventable and we need to make sure everybody understands it” https://hivcl.org/2016/09/13/hiv-is-preventable-and-we-need-to-make-sure-everybody-understands-it/ Tue, 13 Sep 2016 15:38:34 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=3066 Read More]]> Greg Barry is one of the top fundraiser for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk. Although he has a busy life working as a senior manager in a multinational engineering company, Greg puts a lot of passion into this annual fundraiser. He does this because one of his three children, Ron, is HIV positive. Like his son, Greg also thinks it’s important to be involved in getting people educated about HIV.

“I do it this because of Ron. He contracted HIV in 2007. I got the call in February that year. He was in Italy studying and he called and he told us the news and he was quite devastated by it. We had just moved to Calgary,” shares Greg, adding that he thought his son is going to die after reading on the internet about the illness. “It was ten years ago and there was nothing on the Government of Canada’s website telling me anything good. Everything was bad. We were kind of concerned, scared. The first thing I did I booked him a flight and brought him home from Italy,” says Greg.


But then they started to read more and found out that people can live a long and have a good life. “We weren’t educated about HIV and AIDS, we are much more educated today. So it was tough for us for a couple of months,” says Greg. Back in Canada, Ron went to see doctors, and they all started to slowly feel normal again. “I wouldn’t want people to go through what we went through for the first few months. I think people need to understand that HIV is not a gay thing. I know that now, but I used to think that too. I won’t mind admitting I was ignorant to understanding it,” says Greg, who adds that people need to know HIV is preventable. “That’s the message that needs to get out and I know that is what HIV Community Link does. This is preventable and we need to make sure everybody understands it,” he insists.

When Ron, who is a consultant in capital project management, wanted to let others know about his HIV status, Greg didn’t understand why. But now he is proud of Ron’s decision. “I think it’s important for him to say ‘yes, I have HIV, but I live a normal, healthy life and I can be a productive member of society. He’s an example of that and I’m sure there are many others but he’s a person that I see every day.”

Greg has only one advice for those fundraising for the AIDS Walk: don’t be afraid to ask. “I’m not exclusive, I include everybody. I start with a list of emails, I say ‘I’m walking in the Walk to raise money for HIV Community Link, this is my goal this year’ and then I ask for their support. I sent that out this year in early August or late July. And then I sent them a reminder and I saw a spike in donations and I’ll probably send another email today on Friday. Email is pretty efficient today, it’s reaching the audience. Doesn’t matter who the person is, it might be a casual acquaintance, it might be a coworker I know very little of, it doesn’t matter to me, I will ask anybody.”

If you want to be part of this great event and get involved in fundraising, please sign up at scotiabankaidswalk.ca/Calgary. You can make a difference today in the life of someone living with, or at risk for HIV.

 

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Why I Walk https://hivcl.org/2016/07/29/why-i-walk/ Fri, 29 Jul 2016 17:54:56 +0000 https://hivcl.org/?p=2943 Read More]]> Aside from the obvious factor of my being a person living with HIV for 17 years there are a number of reasons that have me register, raise funds, promote, and walk the route at the annual Scotiabank AIDS Walk. This is my “Why I Walk” list:

To show my Solidarity with people living with, at risk for or who have had their lives touched by HIV in any way good or bad. I walk with the hope it encourages another to take part in something bigger than the self and require the efforts and energies of everyone in the face of often overwhelming barriers.

To support a Community living with HIV, their family, friends and the people around them who are or may be experiencing the challenges that HIV can bring into their lives. I walk because I am honoured to carry and share the experiences of HIV positive persons who are afraid or are unable to share at this point in their journey with HIV.

mark2To share and encourage Compassion from the community we live, love and grow our families within that does not condemn, shame, pass judgement, devalue or demonise an individual based merely on a medical condition; but instead show love, acceptance and understanding that they are a person and they have value.

To inform the community I live in on the proven Science that has emerged in the 30 years that HIV and AIDS have been known. The reality that we can prevent the transmission of HIV with both medications and effective condom use, that people can live full lives diagnosed with HIV and starting treatment early can prevent the forward transmission of HIV to others. People need to know that there are great new technologies for both treatment and prevention are on the horizon.

To speak out against and inform my community about the overwhelming Stigma that exists for people living with HIV. Stigma that results in the unnecessary criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, inadequate supports from health, social services, government, housing and employment to name but a few. We know there are populations and groups known to be at higher risk yet every day they are challenged and dismissed as a result of ongoing stigma and discrimination above and beyond an HIV status.

To show my Respect and acknowledge all of the individuals who have for the last 30 years fought for the rights, treatments, laws, access and support for people living with and at risk for HIV. The stories and sacrifices of the many men, women and children who have been lost to AIDS and are no longer able to speak and share with their own voices. Without them and the many still working hard every day, I would not be here writing this blog today.

To inspire and encourage Hope that we can bring HIV to an end. I want to show that we as a community can come together and remove the barriers and obstacles that remain in place even though we have great treatment and technologies to get things moving now.

Lastly, I walk because there was a time in my life when I could not. A time when I could not walk down a flight of stairs, walk my dog or across the room without being utterly exhausted.

I walk because I live in Solidarity with a Community that needs our Compassion and knowledge of the Science and Stigma that exist in order to create a safe place of Respect and understanding. I walk for a community that needs us now more than ever.

Mark Randall
HEAT Program Coordinator, HIV Community Link

The Scotiabank AIDS Walk will take place in Calgary on Sunday, September 18, at 11:00 am.
Click here to find out more information and register for the Walk.

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