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GRAND RAPIDS –
Rick Otterbien, the legislative director for the Michigan Positive Action Coalition, has sent out a notice for a meeting with people interested in HIV/AIDS prevention services in the city. The meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 29 at the Meanwhile Bar, is to strategize needs for the HIV/AIDS community and prevention services.
The meeting was born, Otterbien said, from what he claims was the silencing of the community group HIV/AIDS Services.
“We don’t know if the grant (for needle exchange) has been reapplied for by HIV/AIDS Services,” Otterbien said. “There is no administrative staff… They didn’t even bother to do the auction against AIDS, which had been their largest fundraiser. We are really concerned about that agency. It’s just quite bothersome. Especially for us folks who helped get that program up and working.”
HIV/AIDS Services Board President Ruth Olsson said she was surprised by the call for the meeting and the criticism.
“We are in the process of doing all that (reapplying for the needle exchange grant). We do have an administrative person in place. We are looking for a program manager,” Olsson said. “We are really, really committed to our clients. It’s a comprehensive harm reduction program, not just a needle exchange program.”
Olsson said the auction did not happen because the owners of the Apartment Bar in Grand Rapids, who had always run the program in the past, had decided not to do it this year. She said the organization was disappointed by the owners’ decision, but respected and thanked them for all their past work.
She said she might attend the Sunday night event if it was appropriate.
“I think what pains me is to think that there would be any division among us when we all want to stop the spread of HIV in our community,” Olsson said. “The board’s goal is work together and not fight each other.”