AIDS Council of NSW Illawarra branch services will be offered through two new centres on an interim basis while the branch structure is reviewed, it was announced last week.

The decision to close ACON Illawarra’s doors for a period of six months -“ announced in February -“ was a matter of concern for some local community members; however, the AIDS Council board last week announced its plans for service provision in the Illa-warra area during the hiatus.

Until September (when a new branch office will open), services for HIV-positive people and services for the gay and lesbian community will be offered in separate spaces. PLWHA services, including counselling, drop-in and the Community Support Network, will be located at 1/6 Kenny Street, Wollongong, while gay and lesbian community services will be located at a new resource centre at 26 Belmore Street, Wollongong.

ACON chief executive officer Stevie Clayton said ACON was committed to maintaining a presence in the Illawarra region.

This will be an opportunity for us to look at how we can improve our services and better meet the needs of our communities, Clayton said. We have been working closely with clients, communities and service providers in an extensive consultation process to ensure a smooth transition.

That consultation process got off to a bumpy start in February, with one Wollongong resident describing the news of the impending closure of ACON’s Rawson Street office as a bombshell.

Shortly after that announcement, ACON president Adrian Lovney told Sydney Star Observer that the temporary closure decision was made partly because the local community had disengaged from the service. The expiry of the office lease and increased pressure on the centre’s needle and syringe exchange program were also contributing factors to the decision, he said.

An influx of new needle and syringe exchange clients into the ACON building had created a safety and security risk for our staff and clients, Lovney said.

Community engagement with ACON’s service at Illawarra has been patchy for the last few years, Lovney argued. There have been fewer and fewer people engaging with the service for the last three to five years. What we want to do is respond to that and find out from the community why that is and work together to develop a service mix and model that will actually meet the needs of local stakeholders.

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