British Columbia finance minister Carole Taylor unveiled the details of the province’s $34-billion 2006-2007 budget, Feb 21. But BC’s queer organizations have once again been left in the lurch with not one new penny specifically to support queer and HIV/AIDS organizations.
“I’m very disappointed that there is nowhere that we could see specific funding earmarked again for AIDS,” says British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society (BCPWA) chair Paul Lewand. “So, I’m pessimistic that things are going to change at all.”
Lewand says he’s encouraged by some of the extra spending on health care, including more long-term care beds and money to decrease wait times for access to medical care. He’s also encouraged to see that, for this year at least, among several hospital infrastructure projects in the budget, there is no mention of any changes to St Paul’s Hospital.
Lewand says some people living with AIDS will benefit from those elements of the budget, but that BCPWA will have to continue to tighten their belts even as the number of people needing their support continues to increase.
“For the coming year, our budget is rolled-over with no increase, which is usually the way they do it,” says Lewand. “Our utilities have gone up $9,000 at our office. Taxes are up $15,000. Employee benefits are up $17,000, and we have probably a couple of hundred new members.”
Lewand says BCPWA’s HIV prevention program, which was temporarily suspended last year, will now be dropped permanently, but that BCPWA will be able to carry on as they are for now. “It will be mostly trimmed status quo,” he says. “We’ll be able to keep our programs open and running as they are now in most cases.”
“In my most cynical and angry side, I can’t read it as anything but pure homophobia,” says AIDS Vancouver Director of HIV Prevention Services Phillip Banks, of the government’s failure to talk publicly about HIV/AIDS or to ensure increased funding for BC’s HIV/AIDS groups.
“We can assume the number of people living with HIV is going to continue to grow among gay men,” says Banks. “Currently, I think it’s estimated that 16 or 17 percent of gay men living in Vancouver are HIV-positive. That far surpasses any other population in this country in terms of prevalence.
“It means HIV is more and more endemic to gay men, which further stigmatizes gay men and gay sex culture,” he continues. “Another consequence is that we will continue to live in a community where a culture of disease and death continues with very little support from public health and the government to reduce that. BC is a province that doesn’t prioritize HIV.”
The Dr Peter Centre provides day-to-day support, including social activities, medial care and advice, and meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, through its Day Health Program. Executive Director Maxine Davis says ongoing funding for the Dr Peter Centre’s existing programs is in good shape, but that the Day Health Program is only funded Monday through Friday.
“Our top priority is to have weekend service,” she says. Weekend service is important, not least of all, says Davis, because many of the participants in the program need daily support with their medications.
There was no money in last year’s budget to fund that program on weekends, but Davis says she’s proposing this year that the province fund Saturday service as one step toward full weekend coverage. “Even Saturday is better than nothing at all,” she says. “We’re increasingly providing more to people who need more support. It’s somewhat illogical that we don’t have something on the weekends.”
The budget does offer an additional $2-million for BC’s Crystal Meth Secretariat “to integrate and coordinate efforts to combat the production and use of crystal methamphetamine.”
Al Zwiers, a counsellor for Three Bridges Addiction Services, wants to see an emphasis on the root causes of drug abuse in the queer community rather than meth production.
“We always need more money for detox beds for people to get into when they choose, as opposed to five days or a week from when they choose,” says Zwiers. “There’s also always a need for queer-specific programming and spaces to meet the needs of the LGBTQ community.”
Most provincial government money, for what queer-specific community programs and spaces there are, goes to The Centre. Though the government hasn’t cut funding for The Centre over the years, it hasn’t significantly increased it either.
Donna Wilson, The Centre’s executive director, says, like most non-profit societies, The Centre reapplies for funding every year on a project-by-project basis.
“Oftentimes when a project comes to an end, there isn’t any follow-up,” she says. “For us, the greatest need is for sustainability of the resources we offer for the community and to ensure there’s continuity so we can build on the strength of the work that’s been done. To that end, we’re always looking for opportunities to actually look at long-term solutions as opposed to just on a project basis.”
There is no provision in the provincial budget for a desperately needed queer community centre building.
The Centre’s plan for a new building includes money raised from the community, as well as help from every level of government. Last year, before the civic election, the City of Vancouver earmarked $150,000, a portion of which was to examine the feasibility of a new queer community centre building.
“City staff have designated our feasibility study as a low priority,” says The Centre’s board secretary Brian Lin. “We’ve waited for this for a long time and the community has waited for this for a long time and we really want this to go forward. This is the point where we need our community to speak up and say this is what we think is important.”
Xtra West repeatedly attempted to contact Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt for his comments on the provincial budget, but he didn’t respond before press time.