HIV and Hep C program reaches out to local community and beyond
By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter
In Canada, a developed country that is constantly attracting immigrants to an already booming population, the past is not supposed to be of incredible concern. Unfortunately, for some immigrants, it’s a huge concern. Those who’ve immigrated to another country are usually expected to make a life for themselves and find success. However, the struggle becomes more difficult for those with HIV.
Stride with Purpose, a New Westminster non-profit organization focusing on HIV and Hep C individuals, has reached out to the global community. Their latest project, aptly titled the Immigration Case Management program, assists immigrants in adjusting to a new society and starting a new life—especially if they are HIV positive. Fraser Health, the main funder for the project, has played a hand in starting the process of bringing in immigrants. Over an exchange with Stride with Purpose’s team, the program director, Lynda Fletcher-Gordon, explained how they were able to bring in their first five international clients.
“Fraser Health personnel have been testing people for HIV and then referring them to the program. Referrals have also come from other organizations that help people living with HIV. Every client has experienced a different journey,” Fletcher-Gordon noted.
“For reasons of confidentiality, client situations must be kept vague. If someone feels their life is in danger due to political distress or other reasons… they may decide to escape their homeland. During the immigration process, they are tested for HIV and found to be positive. Individuals from Africa and some other countries have a very different understanding of HIV and there is a much higher level of stigma associated with being positive for HIV than is prevalent in British Columbia. In these countries, when someone tests positive for HIV, it is not uncommon for a family to stop talking to them because of their HIV status. This can be extremely challenging, depressing, and isolating for someone who has just arrived in a new country and is now faced with what they consider a dire health crisis accompanied by the regular challenges of settling in a new country.”
While the one-year project goes on with five individuals from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and the Philippines already receiving assistance, Stride with Purpose continues to focus on the locals.
“The Immigration Case Management program is just one service provided by Stride with Purpose, which provides services to those folks who are positive for HIV and hepatitis, usually C. The Stride Program delivers a variety of services to the entire Fraser North region. There are approximately 150 clients who live in the Lower Mainland, including New Westminster. Stride provides basic services like laundry and showers and a food bank, along with case management services, drop-in, education, prevention, and harm reduction services to a variety of clients,” Fletcher-Gordon explains.
“However, many of the clients are street-entrenched, homeless, low-income, and marginalized individuals. Many of the clients are also struggling with mental illness and/or addictions and childhood trauma in addition to their illnesses and symptoms, which prevent them from obtaining and maintaining work. Outreach services are available through the Health Van. The staff of the mobile Health Van provides harm reduction supplies,
information and referral, food, snacks, water, and warm clothing in the winter to individuals in various communities.”
In addition to providing those on the street with available services, the Stride team has been organizing several events over the summer, which will include, but are not limited to, an annual picnic for clients, a women’s night HIV testing event, and—if funds are available— a sports tournament/BBQ aimed to bring their clientele, as well as Douglas College students and community members together. There is also an HIV testing event for online daters, which will include inclusive activities for singles.
Surprisingly, while there is an abundance of outlets open for HIV/Hep C positive individuals, there are also facets for those without such specific illnesses thanks to the Stride team.
“In New Westminster, the Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families offers programs for youth and families, a variety of learning groups for children under six, an independent school for students in Grades 8 to 12, a health clinic for youth and a separate health clinic for gay men. Purpose also operates five daycare centres in Burnaby and New Westminster, after school and preschool programs, a transition house for youth, and a Youth Hub in Burnaby. The Purpose Society also provides alcohol and drug services to the youth at Burnaby Youth Custody Centre,” she explained.
As they look towards the future, Stride with Purpose has high hopes, but continually remembers to keep their arms open and hearts bursting with acceptance.
“Employees of the Stride program and the agency, in general, work at Purpose because they value making a contribution to community and assisting individuals to be the best they can be and make the best choices they can make. They work at Purpose for the rewards that come when a youth or family make progress toward the goals they have set for themselves. The pay at Purpose is never enough to compensate employees for the magnificent work they do with children, youth and families.”