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Victoria group's pilot project offers a helping hand to men living with HIV

Dec 23 2011

A Victoria-based group is aiming to combat the loneliness and isolation often experienced by HIV-positive gay and bisexual men.

Just in time to cover Christmas and New Year, when loneliness and depression can reach a peak, Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service Society has launched a pilot project to provide support and a helping hand.

The Positively Connected program will run for at least three months and longer if more funding can be found, said Karen Dennis, the society's executive director.

An outreach worker, who is gay and living with HIV, will meet with other HIV-positive men wherever works best for them in the community, Dennis said.

"It could be over a coffee, in their home or in hospital," she said.

The support will range from having a chat or going for a drive to helping with appointments or connecting people to other health and community services if that is what they want, Dennis said.

Often people with HIV do not want to be overtly connected to a known HIV/AIDS organization, so this is one way to get help without attending programs, she said.

"There are many great programs in Victoria that welcome gay and bi men, but none that provide this kind of outreach," Dennis said.

"With an increase in focus on people dealing with mental illness and substance use, we believe that it's time we make sure that gay and bisexual men, who are not living with drug issues, are getting the services and programs they need and want."

Dennis is particularly concerned that some older HIV-positive men are becoming increasingly isolated.

"Some of the HIV-positive gay men who were diagnosed around 20 years ago have disappeared into their own lives and we don't know how to reach them," she said.

"People have been working and living their lives for many years and, if they do need help, they don't know where they can get it," Dennis said.

Members have been in hospital or have died after a stay in hospice without the society knowing they were ill, Dennis said.

Men can contact the society's office directly. It is hoped that friends, family, social workers or health-care providers, who know of someone who could benefit from support, will pass on the information, Dennis said.

The society can be contacted at 250-388-6220 or positivelyconnected@shaw.ca.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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