Ally Centre in danger of losing federal funding, may be forced to close

A non-profit group in Sydney that offers services to people with HIV and others at risk is in danger of shutting down after 23 years in the community.

Centre has been providing services to people with HIV and others at risk since 1992

The Ally Centre in downtown Sydney, N.S., has been offering programs since 1992. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A non-profit group in Sydney, N.S., that offers services to people with HIV and others at risk is in danger of shutting down after 23 years in the community.

The Ally Centre, formerly known as the Aids Coalition of Cape Breton, was told Friday by a federal government agency that its application for funding for next year "could not go forward,"  said Ally Centre director Christine Porter.

Operations at the downtown building are normally covered by an annual grant of $150,000 from the Public Health Agency of Canada Community Action Fund, she said.

'I'm baffled'

Porter said she's shocked because a few months ago the centre was asked to submit what's known as a "letter of intent" to request funding from the PHAC action fund.

"I'm baffled," said Porter.

The chairperson of the centre's board of directors, Janet Bickerton, is also at a loss to explain what's happening.

"It's a small amount of funding.  We got our letter back from them saying sorry but we're not interested.  It's just unimaginable to us really," said Bickerton. 

Between 30 to 50 people are seen every day at the centre, according to Christine Porter. The organization provides support for those with HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens.

Client says centre saved him

It also offers programs for those with drug or alcohol addictions and helps the LGBT community.

Programs are paid for by the province, but without core funding for the building itself the centre would have to shut down, Porter said.

Curtis Aitkens, 34, a client, said the centre saved his life. "I'm 52 days clean and sober off the liquor and I'm just about two months clean from the needles and the drugs."

Another client, Amy, who didn't want her last name used, said the community needs the centre.  

"They train people for overdoses and more awareness on help from hepatitis and HIV and all that stuff.  It's crucial," she said.

'I hope it's a bureaucratic error'

Porter said she's concerned that since the area has "the highest rates of hepatitis C in Nova Scotia per capita" the disease has the potential to become epidemic.

The Liberal MP for Sydney-Victoria, Mark Eyking, spoke with Porter today about the situation, and has promised to offer his help as soon as next Monday.

"I hope it's a bureaucratic error from Ottawa, that they don't realize that we're a small area so I'm gonna be talking to the minister to say, 'Look, this has to be re-looked at,'" he said.

"We have to make sure that Ottawa realizes how important the work that the Ally Centre does here for people who are vulnerable, and if we don't have the people on the ground to help prevent the spread of some of these diseases, it could get worse," said Eyking.

The centre itself plans to organize a rally soon to focus attention on the situation. 

With files from Mainstreet