Counting the cost of cuts to HIV services

WHEN funding is cut, services end and buildings are sold.

But there is a human cost that is often overlooked, and it’s not just those who lose their jobs, it’s those who have come to depend on those vital services that are most affected.

Jason and Rachel cannot contemplate The Crescent – a HIV support centre in St Albans – closing this summer, which it may have to do if funding isn’t found and soon.

For both of them it has proven to be a sanctuary in a world that is still rife with ignorance and discrimination. In fact, they regard it as a home-away-from-home where they can share their troubles, their successes and always be sure of a warm welcome.

For Rachel, in her 40s, The Crescent and the staff there are like her extended family. She said: “I know how that sounds but it’s true. If it weren’t for the people here and the support they have given me, I would be dead. I have no doubt about that.

“When I was first diagnosed, I had to go on medication quite soon after and I was terrified. I wouldn’t have taken them were it not for the expertise and guidance given to me by the staff and people at The Crescent, many of them have been in the same situation and they were able to show me that it wasn’t the end. Life goes on.

“I talk about my HIV status quite freely because I think if people don’t want to know me after that, that’s fine. There are people who come here that don’t tell anybody in their life.

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“Nobody can really understand unless they’re in the same boat or know someone else who has been. There’s a lot of experience here at The Crescent.”

Diagnosed several years ago, Rachel used to attend The Crescent with her mum but she passed away a few years ago. This made it difficult to return at first but it was the staff there that helped her come to terms with the heartbreak the loss had caused.

Jason, in his 30s, was diagnosed a few years ago but found his family struggled to come to terms with the news, refusing to speak about it. “Most people make it about them and with my family, I reached the point where I thought ‘I’m going to have to support them through it’ and it’s me that needs support. The Crescent is the place where I talk, where I can be me.

“I first came to a group for people newly diagnosed and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think this kind of thing was for me. Now, I can’t imagine my life without all of these people, this place.”

Jason isn’t yet on medication but has been told that when he does, he’ll need to take a cocktail of drugs. The prospect is a frightening but one he’s able to work through with the help of The Crescent. He also knows that while he will one day come to rely on medication, he has to look after his body as best he can – a recent health and fitness event gave him the perfect opportunity to explore what was best for him.

Alternative therapies are also on offer at the Russell Avenue centre, helping to ease pain where needed and reduce stress.

But it’s the emotional support and care for their mental wellbeing that means so much to Rachel and Jason. When they discuss its financial situation, both of them are clearly upset by what they regard as unfairness. The decision by Herts County Council to give a county-wide contract to Herts Aid last year, meant The Crescent lost a vital slice of its support. Rachel and Jason are insulted and hurt by what they feel is the council’s lack of regard.

Jason said: “I go to work, I pay my taxes and I contribute to society. But this whole process has been unfair. We were never consulted. Nobody asked us where we lived or what we wanted and I know the council aren’t stupid, but they need to admit they’ve made a mistake. They need to reinstate the funding.”

Rachel added: “They don’t even need to say they were wrong, just give The Crescent the funding it needs.

“I can’t even think about what I’ll do if this place closes.”

Some of the people who rely on The Crescent are unable to tell anybody in their life about their diagnosis. Others who come are elderly parents who have lost their children. The reason is quite clear – everyone is welcome at The Crescent. But it cannot run on goodwill alone and if it closes, 300 people stand to lose a very important home.

If you want to donate to the registered charity text “cres19” followed by the amount you wish to donate to 70070. Donations can only be made in sums of �1, �2, �3, �4, �5 and �10.

Or to make a more significant donation, contact the centre directly on 01727 842532.