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Saturday 10 October 2009

Cash crisis hits OUTLine

Posted in: Community
By Jay Bennie - 21st September 2009

Although through 37 years of helping LGBT people experiencing torment and confusion OUTLine, formerly known as Auckland Gay and Lesbian Welfare and Gayline/Lesbianline, has never been flush with funds, its now in desperate straits.

Without the provision of free office space for decades by the OUT! organisation, grants from gaming and charitable trusts and the occasional glbt community contribution, 4,000 and more calls for help would have gone unanswered every year. Most of the people OUTline has assisted are anonymous voices with nowhere else to turn. Sometimes they are referred on by the police and other organisations.

But after what it says have been repeated attempts all year to cover a $40,000 shortfall - created by the ASB Trust cutting a funding round due to the economic recession - OUTLine is down to its last few thousand dollars in the bank and its situation is critical. Neither General Manager Lesley Belcham or Chair Lorraine Martin, who has only held the position for the last three months, will say so directly, but OUTLine has been fighting for financial survival for most of the year and the prognosis is bad... really bad.


OUTLine is running on empty and is taking, in Martin's own words "desperate measures." Its board has made the "extremely tough" decision "not to renew the position of General Manager when Lesley Belcham’s contract expires"
on 2 October and is looking to further reduce costs "in every way possible."

"We are extremely sad to lose Lesley as her work has been outstanding," says Martin. "During her time with us she has enjoyed the full confidence and support of the board, our members, and the greater community. As a community we have very few people working full time as advocates, indeed outside of HIV, Lesley was one of only two in the entire country. However, as tough as this decision has been, we need to ensure that we do everything possible to keep the phone lines answered."

Outline will limp on with admin and daytime phone work handled by underpaid but committed and hard-working part-timers. At night time the trained volunteer counselors will help stranded glbt people get their lives back on track. But without a full time manager their backup will dwindle, and the advocacy, outreach and policy work which underpins many other glbt community initiatives will be a thing of the past. "We do not anticipate that this level of valuable work will be able to continue without us securing funding to employ someone to do it," says Martin, in a very understated observation. "
We will need to scale back non-phone related work," she then says more bluntly.


Martin is hoping the LGBT community will step up and help fill the financial void, though the early signs are not encouraging. In early August OUTLine launched a fundraising campaign called 'Give a Little – Help a Lot' in the hope that the LGBT community would pitch in. "Ten dollars a month from 1,000 people would see us being able to offer expanded services, not retracting them like we are doing now."

But understands that very few dollars have been forthcoming. Practically none in fact. Short of an appeal in their own newsletter and some low level shoulder-tapping by a few of its members, it's fair to say the campaign has so far been all but invisible. "Unfortunately we do not have the resources to publicise it and keep it top of mind in the community, and we are reliant on the good will of others to help us in this regard," says Martin.

Martin acknowledges that OUTLine has turned to the LGBT community for help very late in the piece. "I've found this a very difficult three months," she explains. "However, I'm determined that we will do our best to develop a better, more solid funding base and know this my time some time to achieve." She realises she faces an uphill struggle trying to convince those gays and lesbians with confident, fulfilled and financially secure lives that there are still people in personal stress because of their sexuality of the need to support a resource such as OUTLine. "One of the problems that we face is the 'underground' nature of much of the work we do," she notes. "OUTLine's main work is in helping those who are most in need and they are often invisible in the wider community. The cruel irony is that the people in our community who can help our organisation the most are those individuals who need us the least."

Martin gives as an example "a gay man in a well paying job and a nice stable relationship who does not see the young person being thrown out of home by her parents for being a lesbian." She believes human nature is such that "we often only support things that have immediate personal relevance to us – like a celebrity starting a foundation for the disease they just got."

Martin also believes that many in the glbt community are still unaware just how desperate OUTLine's plight is. "Some people just don't now quite how difficult things are for us right now... and many people are suffering from 'donor fatigue'... everyone asks for money all the time so it is easy just to write us off as just another group looking for a buck."


That OUTLine's high standards of work and willingness to pitch in and help people all over the country have changed troubled LGBT lives in a practical way is borne out by their log book. Martin cites a few comments from LGBT people whose lives have been turned round by the supportive voice on the phone and the organisation which backs it up:

"I went through hell and turmoil, people at other centres treated me like a worthless prostitute. It was hard accepting my new HIV status, but I am doing alright now - thanks to OUTLine."

"My partner and I went through a really bad time. I thought we might just kill each other, but we got help from OUTLine and then went to see a gay counselor in our local area. All that is history now, we just had our civil union and are off to Sydney for our honeymoon."

"Depression creeps up on me. I live in a rural area and feel like I am alone. Suicide has seemed like the only way out. It's great to know I can pick up the phone and talk to someone who understands and accepts me."

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Jay Bennie - 21st September 2009