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And the Band Played on in Raleigh

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RALEIGH — A program that seeks to reduce the number of AIDS cases in Raleigh is going forward despite a setback. The mobile unit for the NC Coop of Wake county was destroyed by fire last month.

However, that tragedy has not stopped one man from reaching the people who need help.

Another day on the job for Jerome Matthews.His office -- the streets of downtown Raleigh.His desk -- a backpack over his shoulder.His work order -- to bring HIV education and treatment to the homeless and drug addicted.

"You already know the cycle; get paid, get high and then nobody else wants to deal with you because you don't have no money," outreach worker Matthews said to a drug user. "What can you do to change it?"

"We found out that people who are using crack cocaine and intervenous drug use are more at risk to catch HIV and pass it on to somebody else," Matthews said.

One problem that Matthews faces is that the mobile unit he uses was destroyed by fire last month. Now, he is confined to traveling by foot, and to offering the limited supplies he can carry.

"On the RV, we had a phlebotomist and an individual could walk up and get a confidential AIDS test right there," Matthews said. "I can't do that any more."

Matthews must now refer people to agencies for services, and hope they actually go.

"Most substance abusers that we're trying to reach don't go to treatment," program director Wendee Wechsberg said. "One in 10 may make it to treatment, and the kind of people we're reaching never go to any type of substance abuse treatment."

But that has not shaken Matthews' resolve. As a former drug addict himself, he has faced adversity before, and now he is more determined than ever to help others turn their lives around.

"When I see somebody make a change in their life, that'll bring a smile to my face and keep me encouraged to keep coming out here," Matthews said.

The cost of the mobile unit that was destroyed is estimated at about $50,000. NC Coop of Wake county, which is funded by the state, does not have the money to buy a new one.

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Laurie Clowers, Reporter
Greg Clark, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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