The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) of Ottawa is cutting its HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C prevention programs.
Three staff positions, two full-time and one part-time, will be lost, along with five youth educators, effective Nov 6, 2015. Larissa Silver, YSB’s director of community services, says the cuts are due to a gap in funding.
“It was such a difficult, difficult decision,” Silver says. “It’s one of those really straight-forward pieces that unfortunately funding is static. It’s been static for many years and the gap between the cost of the program and the funding was hitting 20 percent and rising and we just couldn’t keep maintaining that.”
The prevention programs included staff and youth educators running workshops on how to avoid the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C while also discussing treatment options. Youth also accessed counselling, harm reduction supplies including a needle exchange, and referrals to other community resources.
YSB will continue to offer the needle exchange and harm reduction supplies to youth, Silver says. The youth drop-ins — Women’s Space; Sexual Health Advisory Group (SHAG); harm reduction drop-in; and Spectrum LGBTQ+ Community Youth Group — are currently under review, she says.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to continue to support some elements of all of them, but I can’t tell you exactly what that looks like,” Silver says.
Since Oct 20, YSB has held meetings with youth to assess what youth consider the most important elements of the drop-ins prevention programming, Silver says. The goal is to come up with “creative solutions” to see what YSB can offer relative to its budget, she says.
Katarina Pavelic, a team member of SHAG, says the cuts are a significant loss for LGBT youth. Pavelic, 18, identifies as queer, non-binary and uses the pronoun they.
Statistics show LGBT youth disproportionately experience homelessness or street involvement. YSB’s hepatitis C and HIV prevention programs, along with the drop-ins, provide much-needed resources and job opportunities for LGBT youth in Ottawa, they say.
“This is what gave me pride and it really helped make me feel like I was making a difference and then they just kind of like pulled the rug from under me,” Pavelic says. “The hep C team actually talks about needles and stuff for testosterone that would very much affect trans people . . . Harm reduction and sexual health education [cuts] especially [are] going to severely impact queer and trans people who really can’t get sexual health education revolving around their issues anywhere else.”
Silver says it’s important youth have an opportunity to express and process their sense of loss, but says YSB will work to offer whatever support it can with the available resources.
“Our youth workers, our intensive case management, all of those pieces still remain and that focus that we have on youth and on harm reduction — a great deal of that will still be here. It’s embedded in all of the services that we provide,” she says.
Planning is underway between YSB and youth to try to determine what the priorities are and what services the organization will be able to offer, Silver says.
“It won’t look the same . . . but whatever the youth feel is the most important part, those are the parts where we’re going to focus and provide that ongoing support for the degree that we can,” she says.
Being consulted when the services are a couple of weeks away from being cut puts a lot of pressure on youth, which feels unfair, Pavelic says.
“They haven’t given us a lot to work with in terms of coming up with creative solutions,” they say. “They haven’t really told us what we can and cannot do and then they’re also basically putting all the pressure on us.”
When asked about YSB missing a deadline to apply for a Trillium grant, Silver says that wouldn’t have made a difference to the cuts.
“It’s completely separate,” she says. “The thing with Trillium is there are multiple opportunities throughout any calendar year, any fiscal year, to apply for Trillium grants.”
Funding for the hepatitis C and HIV prevention programs comes from the Ministry of Health, Silver adds.
Between now and Nov 6 there are big decisions to be made, but Silver says she’s hopeful about the process.
“Youth are brilliant,” Silver says. “They know what it is that they need and so I’m really hopeful that we’ll be able to provide that framework for them to be as creative as I know they can be and see where we go. I’m cautiously optimistic in the space of difficult decisions.”