Khaled Salam, Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. The ACO will open its doors at 19 Main St., Dec. 1, 2014. Photo by Cara Marshall
Meet Khaled Salam: active community champion, avid Senators fan, affable polyglot, and Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. A world traveler who loves Ottawa, a foodie who dines at Main Street restaurants, and an avid tennis player who practises at Brantwood Park, he is about to become your neighbour.
On Dec. 1, the ACO will officially take up residence in its new home at 19 Main St. Having been at its Centretown location for over 11 years, the organization was in need of a space that could accommodate the many services it now provides.
From the outside, the new digs are a nondescript two-storey brick building. On the inside, the roughly 7,000 square-foot space is a bright, airy, welcoming centre, complete with lounge, kitchen and therapy room. Upstairs, the second level accommodates offices, a boardroom, and an education room. In all, it is a comfortable, homey space that reflects the organization’s grassroots origins.
“We see anywhere from 30 to 60 drop-ins in a day,” Salam says. “We have 75 to 100 active volunteers and the majority are community members. That just goes to show how meaningfully involved our community is in the work that we do.
“This new space has a tremendous amount of programming potential and will allow us to enhance the quality of our services and programs,” he adds. “Having your own two-storey, free standing building with your own lot, completely changes the dynamics of our work, as opposed to being in multi-tenant building downtown. It gives you a lot more creative freedom, allows room for growth, and ultimately provides opportunities to build on our current services and programs in a way that is reflective of the emerging needs of our community.”
At the back of the building is a separate entrance to what is called the Tool Shed, part of ACO’s harm reduction program. It houses a needle exchange room where people who use drugs may safely and securely dispose of used syringes.
There is a clear incentive on all sides for such a facility. Numerous studies, including one conducted by the World Health Organization, have found that increasing the availability of sterile syringes significantly reduces HIV infection. Needle exchange programs reduce the number of discarded syringes on the streets, provide help to those who need it, and save lives. These are things that the ACO has undertaken with great success.
That is a good reason why the organization’s Living Room is so aptly named. What started nearly three decades ago as a drop-in centre that was literally someone’s living room has become a vital service, providing support, referrals, and health promotion.
Years of medical and social progress means that HIV infection has largely become a chronic, manageable disease. If people have access to the education and treatment they need, living a healthy active life is a perfectly reasonable expectation, which is why the ACO is so important to the community.
“We are excited and looking forward to mobilizing community education and community engagement work in our new neighbourhood,” Salam says. “Once we have settled into our new home, we will host open houses and community barbecues to ensure our neighbours have opportunities to learn more about our work and meet our staff, board and volunteers.”
This year, the theme for World AIDS Day is “Getting to zero”— zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero discrimination. With the help and support of a welcoming community, the ACO may be on its way to realizing those goals.
To find out more about the organization, check out its website at aco-cso.ca.by