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Local and Community News

Massachusetts: Fitchburg Divided on New Site for HIV Center

January 2, 2003

Gardner Visiting Nurses Association staff did not expect local Fitchburg, Mass., residents to care when the social service agency applied to the zoning board to move its HIV drop-in center to a new building barely a mile away. The former mill town is grappling with how -- or whether -- to deal with homeless, sick and drug-addicted people. Heroin use in Fitchburg more than doubled between 1995 and 2001.

VNA's current storefront space is cramped and decrepit, freezing in the winter and stifling in the summer. So the staff found a new site in a converted mill building farther from commercial traffic. The problem: the new building is across from Crocker Field, used by a variety of programs for schoolchildren.

VNA's Community Services Center is not a drug program and does not give out needles. But in its fight against HIV through education, counseling and testing, VNA does try to attract society's disadvantaged. Open 11 hours a week, it offers free food, clothing and toiletries and makes referrals for housing, health care and detox services.

Of VNA's clients, 55 percent are homeless, 36 percent are intravenous drug users, and one-fourth abuse alcohol. About half the city's HIV/AIDS cases were infected through needles, compared with a third of Massachusetts' HIV/AIDS cases, according to the state Department of Health. VNA's research shows that 64 percent of its members have lived in Fitchburg for at least six years.

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Fitchburg's mayor, who initially supported the relocation but changed his mind in the face of the firestorm, has said he will find a suitable alternative. However, mistakenly believing that it had all of the approvals it needed, VNA already renovated the new location and signed a long-term lease. The financial losses and the controversy might doom the HIV program altogether, worried Jean McGuire, HIV/AIDS director at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which funds the drop-in center.

Back to other CDC news for January 2, 2003

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Adapted from:
Boston Globe
12.30.02; Marcella Bombardieri



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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