Today several hundred people gathered to protest the likely closure of the 198 Centre in central Christchurch.
The 198 Centre is free drop-in health centre for young people but will close at the end of April unless new funding can be found to cover rising costs.
The centre has been in operation for some fifteen years and while money has always been tight the centre has now reached the point of no return. Bankruptcy looms. This is even despite the fact that the centre is run on the smell of an oily rag and no-one works there will ever feature in the high income tax bracket - unlike the considerable number of Canterbury District Health Board administrators on more than a $100,000 a year.
I've read hat nearly 7,000 young people use the centre's services every year and I can well believe it. This is a centre that does an invaluable role providing crucial services for working class youth with little money.
The 198 Centre has been there to provide medical checks ups, health advice, pregnancy tests, counselling and simply a friendly place where young people can meet and talk. In these days of the so-called 'me generation' there is still a lot to be said for good old community solidarity.
One third of 198 Youth Health Centre’s young patients seek help for sexual health issues, and another third for issues with mental health, two areas for which research shows young people are far less likely to go to their family doctor.
The closure of the centre will effectively mean that young people in Christchurch will miss out on the health care they require. Where are these young people expected to go with other health services are already to struggling with budget cuts and increasing demand?
Despite the centre's invaluable role in the local community it is faced with closure because no-one - from the Canterbury District Health Board to the Christchurch City Council is prepared to give a helping hand.
Health minister Tony Ryall has refused to step in to save the centre.
The Christchurch City Council's failure to come to the financial assistance of the 198 Centre is another example of this council's skewered priorities. It can find $17 million to bailout out a discredited and almost bankrupt property developer and it can find $5 million to spend on the 'naming rights' to a garden show but it cannot find he money to help out a health centre that plays a crucial role among Christchurch youth.
This is a time of deep recession and youth unemployment has rocketed up over the past year or so. Yet, despite this, the young people of Christchurch are facing the ugly prospect of having another support organisation kicked out from under them.
Save 198 Youth Health Centre!