Local HIV/AIDS prevention organizers and concerned community members met on Monday, October 15 at 5:30 p.m. for an emergency town hall meeting at the United Communities AIDS Network (UCAN) office to plan a response to proposed funding cuts at the state and federal level to all HIV prevention services in Thurston County.
Executive Director of Pierce County AIDS Foundation (PCAF), Duane Wilkerson, kicked off the discussion by sharing how Dave Kern, Department of Health, met with him and Deputy Director Lori Bundrock for a meeting they believed was “about rearranging one of our social works.”
When they arrived, Kern told them that the HIV Planning Group had decided to cut all funding for Thurston County HIV prevention efforts.
The planning group proposed this funding cut to direct money towards counties statewide with higher numbers of HIV cases. While Thurston County receives budget cuts, Kitsap County, however, will be continuing to receive funding under the proposed plan, regardless of the fact that the two counties have almost identical numbers of reported citizens living with HIV/AIDS.
Prevention efforts affected include the Olympia chapter of the Mpowerment Project – an organization recognized by the Center for Disease Control at the national level for their work in risk behavior reduction for gay and bisexual men ages 18 to 29. Mpowerment also provides no-cost, rapid and confidential HIV screening.
While men who have sex with men are still the majority of new HIV cases in the state of Washington, Mpowerment coordinator Justin Taylor recognizes that other populations are at risk too. He stated his hopes to expand the reach of Mpowerment’s prevention work beyond young gay and bi men, as “we all rise or fall together”.
Representatives from UCAN and community members attended the Washington State HIV Prevention Planning Group meeting in Kent, Washington this Thursday, October 18 from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm. Check our next issue for the results of that meeting.
By Troy Mead