1 min

Elevator ride

Credit: Dean Tomlinson

It used to be said that when you got into the elevator at 399 Church St, it was easy to guess if a passenger was going to push two or four.

The clean-cut types would typically push four for the AIDS Committee Of Toronto. When the doors opened, they stepped out into a large carpeted reception area with neatly displayed information sheets and windows.

The less well-to-do looking passengers might be expected to push two for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation where from a small reception area they would go to see counsellors who would provide direct services – advice about health care benefits, disability insurance, drug therapy information or, one day a week, a bag of food from the food bank.

Today, elevator riders say it is not as easy to guess a passenger’s destination. People with HIV/AIDS are living longer with fewer supports and services because of government cutbacks. Those with family, friends and financial resources may use an agency for a while, and then manage without help. But for others poverty, inadequate housing and drug treatment are huge, persistent problems that bring them regularly to the doors of AIDS organizations.

At the same time, most AIDS organizations are having their budgets flatlined or reduced, leaving staff less able to respond.

A few years ago, there was one support worker for 98 clients at the Black Coalition For AIDS prevention. Today, there is one support worker for 250 clients, says acting executive director Camille Griffith.

At another small community-based agency, Asian Community AIDS Service, the expanding epidemic means the organization has to provide services and translate its materials into more languages – all this on a budget that doesn’t grow.

At 399 Church, ACT and Toronto PWA are working more closely together, and hope to set up more “one stop” shopping for clients in need, perhaps even a shared reception area, says Lori Lucier, acting co-executive director at ACT.