Toronto
2 min

Itching to move

Hassle Free shedding its cramped quarters

TIGHT SPACES. Hassle Free's Jane Greer wants city cash. Credit: Paul Baik

After 23 years at the corner of Church and Wellesley, the Hassle Free Clinic will soon be getting some new digs.



The deal for the new home of the sexual health clinic is secure and the architect is currently working on the plans, which will include an elevator to improve accessibility – but the exact date of the move is still unclear.



“Ideally, it will be around May,” says Hassle Free coordinator Jane Greer. “A while ago I was saying March but I change it [the date] as I see fit. It’s a process.”



The clinic was founded in 1973 and operated on Yonge St until it moved to its present location above Church St’s Devon restaurant in 1980. The clinic was at the forefront of the AIDS crisis and led the charge for anonymous HIV testing.



The new location will be at 66 Gerrard St E, on the second floor of the building where The Bijou porn theatre is located.



“We need a bigger space,” says HIV counsellor Craig Stephen. “Our services have expanded beyond the capacity of this building.”



In fact, the demand for services has been stretching the resources of the current clinic’s space for at least five years but the predictable stumbling block has stood in their way: a lack of money. The clinic’s core funding comes from the City Of Toronto with additional funding coming from the AIDS Bureau of the Ministry Of Health And Long-Term Care and from fundraising and donations.



Greer says that patient visits have gone up from 18,000 in 1998 to 23,000 last year. It became a chicken and egg problem: do they hire more staff when there isn’t the room for them, or do they go for a new space before they have the extra staff? They finally decided the latter made more sense.



“I’ve made a spending request [to the city] of $125,000 for the move,” Greer says. “At first I estimated that to be about half of what we need. Now I’d say it’s about a third.… I’m hoping the city will step up to the plate.”



The new space will be 4,000 square feet compared to the 2,400 square feet the clinic currently occupies. Significantly for patients, there will be a much bigger, friendlier waiting space. It’s not unusual for patients to line up in a cold hallway half an hour before the clinic opens to be sure they will be seen.



They are in the middle of a fundraising drive right now to help with the move. Greer says they did one mail out last year which raised about $10,000 and the AIDS Bureau has kicked in $25,000 for the move, but the fundraising committee is looking for volunteers to help organize activities to raise cash.



Through all this, the city is in the middle of a syphilis outbreak. The clinic had about 120 new positive tests for syphilis at the clinic in 2003. That’s about half of the cases in the entire city of Toronto.



* The Hassle Free Clinic is at 556 Church St, second floor. Hours of operation and information about donating money are at Hasslefreeclinic.org. The women’s clinic number is (416) 922-0566; The men’s clinic number (416) 922-0603. Interested volunteers can call (416) 922-3549 and speak to Jessica or Lisa during the women’s clinic hours or Zavare during the men’s clinic hours.