Toronto taxpayers are picking up the tab for drug and AIDS programs that include outreach at bath houses, a "bad date" coalition and "safer" drug use instruction.
Councillor Rob Ford drew the wrath of several of his fellow council members yesterday as he argued that a cash-strapped city should not spend tax dollars on these types of programs.
"We're paying somebody $40,000 to deal with the Happy Transsexual Hooker (program) to encourage transsexual workers to attend Monday night drop-ins," Ford said. "We're paying someone $47,000 part-time, 21 hours a week, to engage men in bath houses. Amazing."
The bathhouse visits are part of an HIV outreach program to groups such as Spanish-speaking, Aboriginal and black men.
Other grants are paying for AIDS outreach in African schools, and drug prevention programs that teach addicted and homeless kids to garden and walk on stilts.
There's also money to develop a Sex A-to-Z deck of cards campaign.
"It's a complete waste of taxpayers' money," Ford said.
His criticism immediately drew fire with one councillor calling his position "stupid" and another suggesting opposition to the grants was "racist," although that comment was immediately withdrawn.
The drug and AIDS prevention grants are part of a $45.6-million budget for community grants approved by city council yesterday.
Many of the programs are designed to reach marginalized communities, city health staff say.
Budget Chief Shelley Carroll argued it's far more cost effective for the city to provide funds to outside community groups than to create a bureaucracy to deliver all these programs.
The number of AIDS cases in Toronto are on the rise, and these programs are needed to help counter that trend among a new generation of high-risk citizens, she noted.
"That's the way we don't become an Africa," Carroll said, apparently referring to the high rate of AIDS in that country.
Councillor Adam Vaughan said homeless youth in his ward are involved in the gardening program, providing needed muscle to help seniors and children who also participate.
Health board chairman John Filion said it's discouraging for the people who deliver these important programs to hear Ford slam them year after year as a waste of money.
"Some of these (drug and AIDs prevention) programs - it's easy to poke fun ... I would invite Councillor Ford to visit some of these programs and see what a difficult population you have to serve."
Ford said these programs are condoning drug use and prostitution, and have no place in the city budget. "You're giving them crack pipes," Ford said. "We're $3 billion in debt. We're taxed to death ... It's ridiculous."