HIV patients like Cindy White of Fresno don't want to lose their support group. White said, "It's like a slap in the face saying we don't care if you live or die."
Cindy and Tim White acquired the HIV virus through drug use. But they learned "The Living Room" in Central Fresno is true to its motto, "a place to belong."
Here they found support, education and an occasional meal. But the doors will close at the end of the month.
Tim White said, "I've seen a lot of people come a long ways here. To see them fall back because they're not strong, it will happen."
Fresno County's Public Health Department is closing its only AIDS clinic to deal with a five-million dollar budget shortfall. Patients must now seek other healthcare providers.
Public Health Director Dr. Edward Moreno said, "The priority at this point is to make sure people with HIV and AIDS get into a doctor to get medical care. We don't have enough money for the support services that we've been able to provide in the past."
The bulk of The Living Room's financial support is provided by Westcare. But without the 69-thousand dollars in annual county funds, Jules Mastro says the program he founded is doomed. Mastro explained, "It's much less expensive to give education to people than it is to treat people."
Dr. Moreno added, "We really have seen how valuable support services are for people with HIV, however, there's not enough money."
The remembrance wall at The Living Room serves as a sobering reminder of the hundreds of local lives the disease has claimed.
Cindy White said, "I believe if they close it down they're gonna end up seeing another epidemic. I really do."
About 1700 AIDS cases were reported in Fresno County last year.