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What about us?

New BC budget disappoints queers

The BC Liberals' new budget falls short for queers and people living with AIDS. Credit: Ken Boesem

Despite generous boons to a variety of groups across the province, the BC Liberals’ new budget falls short for queers and people living with AIDS, community groups say.

Though the proposed budget contains small tax breaks and relief provisions for those living below the poverty line and some additional money for healthcare services, it offers no new money to gay groups and fails to directly address health issues for people living with AIDS.

In fact, there is no mention of gay people or HIV/AIDS in any of the government ministry service plans for 2005.

That could leave groups such as Youthquest, BC’s only support network for non-urban youth, out in the cold.

A close look at the Liberals’ Feb 15 budget shows no new money for Youthquest; the group may not even get the funding the government set aside for it last year. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Children and Family Services says the $50,000 originally earmarked for Youthquest for 2005 will only be available to them if they can sort out their internal difficulties. (The $50,000 is what’s left of the two-year grant the group received in 2004, when the Liberals reinstated part of the money they cut in 2002.)

No one at Youthquest seemed to know about the remaining $50,000 when contacted.

The only provincial funding currently in place for exclusively queer projects goes to The Centre. “The Centre has been fortunate in that it hasn’t had to face the same level of funding cuts over the past years that maybe other community organisations have,” says director Donna Wilson.

Though the government hasn’t taken any money away from The Centre, it hasn’t increased its funding significantly, either. The Centre relies on the Vancouver Coastal Heath Authority, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Public Safety for the bulk its operating budget. The Centre has to petition each of those provincial organisations individually for whatever funding it can get on a program-by-program basis.

The combined annual budgets of those three government entities amount to more than $3 billion. The Centre survives on an annual budget of about $600,000.

The new budget makes no provision for a desperately needed new home for The Centre, either.

Although Wilson remains optimistic, she says the $5 million The Centre needs for the new building could still take five or ten years of struggle, and the cooperation of municipal, provincial, and federal governments, to come to fruition.

Still, Wilson cautions gay observers not to be too hasty when judging the Liberals’ proposed budget. Though there is no explicit mention of anything queer in any government or regional documentation, Wilson says what funding there is from the government represents a clear commitment to financially supporting the gay community.

But HIV/AIDS groups say they need a greater commitment from the government.

“We applaud the government for the $200 million they set aside in this budget for additional home care, palliative care and mental health and addiction services,” says Derek Bell, treasurer of the BC Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA).

“But they could do more. People living with AIDS have so much of their own healthcare expenses they have to pay out of their own pockets these days.”

Funding from the province for BCPWA has been stagnant for the past decade, increasing less than one percent a year while the number of BCPWA clients has more than doubled in that time.

Another area of concern for people with AIDS is a lack of service coverage outside of Vancouver. Though the number of new sero-conversions reported in rural areas is quite small, people with AIDS in outlying areas often have difficulty accessing the services they need.

“I understand there are many funding priorities for healthcare and that HIV/AIDS is just one of many competing interests for healthcare dollars,” says Phillip Banks, director of prevention and education for AIDS Vancouver. “But there needs to be increased funding across the province and there needs to be funding for sustainable infrastructure over the long term. Money has to be targeted where the epidemiology dictates.”

“The absolute, number-one priority for our participants is to extend weekend service to our Day Health Program. AIDS does not know weekends,” adds Dr Peter Centre director Maxine Davis.

The Dr Peter Centre is a hospice and day-health facility providing care and community to people living with AIDS. As it stands now, the only option for day-program participants with medical issues on Saturdays or Sundays is the emergency department at St Paul’s Hospital.

Another topic of particular interest to many queers is the BC hate crimes team.

The team consists of two officers mandated to help police identify, investigate and track hate-motivated crimes, such as gaybashings, in BC. The team’s funding was cut in 2002.

Currently, the hate crimes team has neither the resources, nor the person-power to even begin to address its mandate in any meaningful way.

Although the proposed budget provides $122 million over the next three years for 215 additional Mounties, it contains no additional money for the hate crimes team.

On Feb 17, Vancouver city council passed Councillor Tim Stevenson’s motion endorsing the call for more funding to the team. “Even the Canadian Jewish Congress says gay people are at the highest risk as victims of hate crimes,” Stevenson notes. “So complete funding for the hate crimes team would benefit us enormously.”

The Ministry of Public Safety did not respond to Xtra West’s requests for information about funding the hate crimes team before deadline.