Christine Stuart photo

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget office has said four HIV and AIDS programs that didn’t receive funding July 1 will receive funding Aug. 1. But few who work with HIV/AIDS clients believe it.

At the Connections drop-in center in Hartford Monday, Loren H., who has been living with an HIV diagnosis for 17 years said the center is one place where those living with the diagnosis can get all their needs met.

But with all the reductions in funding from both the state and federal government the center has fewer and fewer resources to service those individuals living with HIV and AIDS.

Loren H., who didn’t want to give his last name because there are still stereotypes associated with HIV, said he contracted HIV through sexual relations in 1992. He said after being diagnosed he worked for about eight years before applying for disability. He said disability was extremely difficult to obtain. He said loads of paperwork were required before receiving a few hundred dollars per month.

He said the current economic crisis has hit those living with HIV and AIDS as hard as it has hit everybody else, “but even more so.” He said the Connections Center is a place where those living with HIV and AIDS can get several meals per day. He said the center also helps people apply for disability, find housing, get a hot meal, socialize with friends, and get counseling services.

Loren H said clients who frequent the center have already seen staff layoffs and reductions in the number of bus tokens. He said none of the people who come to the clinic have a car and the bus tokens help them get around using the city bus. With the bus token shortage, he said they’ve started collecting cans and bottles hoping to raise enough money to purchase a couple of bicycles. In addition the center has started its own vegetable garden at the Knox Park Foundation gardens.

Mark Jenkins, a drug treatment advocate, said if you don’t have the frontline services the situation is going to speak for itself. He said right now you don’t have to worry about finding dirty needles in the street, but if the needle exchange program doesn’t receive funding then, dirty needles will become a common sight on Hartford’s streets.

Already the needle exchange van is making fewer and fewer trips out to the streets, Jenkins said.

Jenkins who helps run the needle exchange program said many times the van where infected addicts go to drop off their dirty needles and receive clean ones is the only place these individuals get medical attention. He said often times it’s also a place they can get help finding drug treatment.

“You should see how these clients are treated when they go to the hospital,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins who a few weeks ago held a full-time position with AIDS Project Hartford has seen his position cutback to a part-time position. When he was at the center Monday, he technically wasn’t on the clock, but “it’s what we do,” Jenkins said. “People in need don’t know time on a clock.”

Shawn Lang, director of public policy for CT AIDS Resource Coalition, said there’s so much uncertainty about funding from all the various sources that fund HIV and AIDS outreach. She said for many clients the Connections center is the “end of the line.” She said this is not the first place clients come for services.

“It’s usually the last” after they’ve exhausted all the other social services, which fall short of meeting their needs, Lang said.

She said while the number of people living with HIV and AIDS has doubled over the past 10 years, funding for community support services has declined by 11 percent, syringe exchange programs have increased by 12 percent, and AIDS services have increased only 23 percent.

“I don’t know of any other illness that creates the same level of social stigma, medical crisis, and bureaucratic chaos,” Lang recalled a friend of hers living with HIV/AIDS once telling her.

“Many people think the AIDS crisis is over, but that’s far from reality,” Lang said.

As for the delayed state funding for the four HIV/AIDS programs, Lang said she’ll believe it, when she sees it. Until then she’s going to continue to fight to restore the funding.

She said she expects layoffs to continue as organizations express concern about the uncertainty of the funding. She said often one staff member is funded through many sources and if one of those sources doesn’t come through then an employee’s hours may be cutback or positions eliminated.