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State budget cuts hurt local HIV/AIDS Foundation

The Kitsap County HIV/AIDS Foundation will lose funding for its food delivery and youth outreach programs in 2012.

The news comes as infection remain an national and global problem.

One problem is that HIV/AIDS is beginning to fade from public consciousness, said Kim McCoy, executive director of the Kitsap County HIV-AIDS Foundation.

McKoy recalled a man approaching her after one of her information sessions saying, "You know, I really hadn't even thought about AIDS since the '90s."

There are some 200 people in Kitsap County living with AIDS. According to McKoy, that number is likely larger as many live with it privately and do not go through the county health district.

"I went to [Bremerton] Mayor Patty Lent's office and she told me about a family member she had lost to AIDS. Then I went to meet someone else in the office, and they had also lost someone. Then an assistant was telling me that her best friend was living with it now. This problem is still very real. Every fourth person that I meet has someone affected," said McKoy.  The Kitsap County Health District was a large source of money for the center. This year's state-wide budget cuts have left an $18,572 hole in the budget that cut key services.

"It was a categorical reduction in funding. We didn't cut our HIV-AIDS programs, like needle exchange, case managers, and the Madison clinic," said Scott Lindquist, director of Kitsap County Health District. But funding for partners was reduced by the state, so the money we passed along to them was less."

For example, the center once provided 60 clients who were too sick or poor to maintain a healthy diet with basic food items delivered to their homes.

"Most of our clients coming through the health district are of a socioeconomically lower status. Some of them are pretty nervous right now with the cuts that are happening especially with food," said McKoy.

Cashelle, a single-mother with AIDS, who requested that her identity be protected, depends on the food service to help her with nutritional needs.

She explained that some months her paychecks would only cover rent and bills or she would not have the strength to get to the market at all.

"By the end of the month, you're like 'what about food?' Eating right is so important for someone who has HIV/AIDS, or you can't take your medicine. It's a struggle as it is with everything else you are dealing with, you have to consider the whole person," said Cashelle.

Lent serves on the health district board. She explained the cuts to the health district are about streamlining.

"When we don't have any flexibility in revenue funding we look for redundancy in any manner," Lent said. "Is there anyone else that can fill the gap?"

Lent said food banks and food delivery services such as Meals on Wheels. They are funded through the county and have always been a supporter of shut-ins, Lent.

McKoy explained that the center is, in fact, in talks with Bremerton foodline and Meals on Wheels to keep food going to their most at-risk clients now that they have lost money.

"We need to figure out who is most vulnerable, who absolutely needs food," said the director.

"A lot of people could be in jeopardy. Food banks can only cover so much," said Cashelle.

The foodline will provide 35 meals for Christmas dinner and McKoy is turning to community donations to fill in the gap.

"This is where the community can really step up for a real public issue," said McKoy.

The youth program will also take a hit, though not as immediately as the food program.

According to the director, the health district has budgeted "some sort of support" until at least June.

"There's always concern about youth. Education on HIV/AIDS is the most important thing. But the state Legislature will have to come out before the health district will move on that," said Lent.

Youth HIV infection is of special concern because teen infection rates are rising in Kitsap County. In the last couple of years, the foundation has seen individuals as young as 13 or 14 come in with the disease.

"With the youth, they're shunned. They're like outcasts, so the center is good support for them. Sometimes they can't talk to their parents, but they can talk to each other," said Cashelle.

The center's Youth Program is based on education, self-esteem, awareness, and prevention. It offers kids who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or straight allies a safe place to talk about the issues that they face. And it provides them with leadership training and counseling on making good decisions for their life.

"We've been very mindful of being able to truly document the success of our youth programs. It's education beyond what you get in schools," said McKoy.

The foundation is hoping that it can inspire community action to help fill the gaps in funding, especially through private donations and sponsors. They are working on finding secondary partnerships and putting together a collation of people to "take to the streets" and get the word out about a disease that hasn't gone away.

"HIV and AIDS are still here and there are still people trying to function. Regardless of how they contracted it, it's here. Without a place like the foundation, a safe haven, we're in the world all ourselves," said Cashelle.

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