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Losing city cash would cripple ACO’s Living Room: ED

Coun Bob Monette clarifies his comments on the funding of ACO

Bob Monette will vote against any organization’s cash request for a safer inhalation program, he told the CBC Jul 26.

The comments appeared to be a thinly-veiled threat to the AIDS Committee Of Ottawa’s core funding. ACO has pledged to raise — through private donations — the money needed to continue the program without city help.

In an interview with Capital Xtra, Monette attempts to clarify his position.

“As you know, council voted 15-7 in favour of cancelling the [crack pipe] program. We don’t feel that that money is well spent,” says Monette. “What I’m concerned about is city taxpayer’s money. If you’re not using taxpayer’s money to fund the [crack pipe] program, I don’t have any problem with it.”

If an organization asked for $50,000 from the city at budget time, and $10,000 of that was to be allocated to a safer inhalation program, Monette says he would consider only the $40,000 non-pipe-program request. He says his comments did not imply that he would vote against funding for ACO that goes to its other programs.

“I’m not saying no money to AIDS … or any organization of the sort.”

Still, Monette is not committing to vote in favour of ACO’s base funding next year, which goes to the organization’s flagship program, the Living Room project. “I would have to consider it,” he says.

If the city withheld the funding it provides to ACO, it would effectively close the Living Room, says ACO executive director Kathleen Cummings. The service offers a drop in, support groups and a grocery program for people living with HIV/AIDS and is unique in the city.

Cummings says she’s morally obligated to continue the safer inhalation program, no matter what the risks are to ACO’s city funding.

“It’s our mandate to prevent the transmission of HIV in the city of Ottawa and to support people in the city living with HIV. [Distributing crack pipes] wholeheartedly fits our mandates. We have to maintain the integrity of our program and we do that by adhering to our mandate,” Cummings says.

Last month’s vote was the third funding setback for the AIDS organization this year. In February, the city killed a pilot program run by ACO worth $14,760, which gave people access to a fridge or freezer to store their complex antiretroviral drug regimes. It was especially helpful to those who are homeless, because it give them secure access to their medication seven days a week.

ACO has also lost $11,760 for the nutritional meal program, which is about half the money the organization spends securing healthy groceries for clients. The money was provided in recognition that ACO was reaching more clients than their budget could accommodate, leaving the group struggling to face their financial realities.

“Without it, we’ve had to cut our programs by two-thirds. What we should be doing now is spending our time raising money for the nutritional meal program, but now we have to divide our efforts between it and raising money for the crack pipes.”

She points out that the city funding peaked in 1998 with $71,900. The base amount has grown slightly, up from $49,000 in 1999 to $55,551 last year. While funding has gone up “fractionally”, ACO has seen a substantial increase in the number of clients it serves, Cummings says.

Cummings says she is “saddened” by Monette’s comments. Still, she’s reluctant to characterize the councillor’s comments as a threat.

As for Monette, he declines to say for certain what he’ll do come budget time.

“It’s no threat. I’m just expressing my view,” he says.