In the middle of a crowd of state troopers and drug counselors protesting at the state capital yesterday, a tired, fragile-looking woman leaned against her picket sign.
For Audrey, a 28-year-old recovering drug addict who is infected with the AIDS virus, the protest was draining. But it was her chance to try to stop her world from shrinking once again.
Audrey, who has been scraping by on $205 a month since being diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in 1989, expects to lose her welfare benefits and medical insurance under deep budget cuts approved yesterday by the state Board of Public Works. In a 2-1 vote,the board chaired by Gov. William Donald Schaefer passed his sweeping $450 million budget-slashing package.
While several hundred troopers marched silently up the stairs of the State House, protesting Schaefer's plan to close two state police barracks, about 30 substance-abuse counselors and recovering addicts waved signs protesting the elimination of state support for addiction treatment.
Most came fromresidential programs and halfway houses in Anne Arundel County, which has 23 percent of the state's drug and alcohol treatment services. Alcoholics and cocaine addicts receiving treatment at Hope House in Crownsville held up signs that asked: "What happened to the War on Drugs?"
"This is so frustrating," said Christopher Akers, who went through rehabilitation at Samaritan House after being arrested for drunken driving and now serves as a manager there.
Samaritan House, anAnnapolis halfway house for recovering addicts, is one of six treatment centers in the county that would have to close Nov. 1, when the cuts are scheduled to take effect. The loss of state aid would force all non-profit residential treatment programs to shut their doors.
Waiting lists for the county's residential treatment programs often reach close to 100 people a month, the centers' directors said yesterday. Ruth Hudicek, who oversees treatment at Hope House, said most of the patients waited at least six weeks after going through detoxification before they were admitted. Ironically, she said, the 22-bed facility just received permission to expand to 40 beds.
She and other counselors warned that wiping out drug-treatment programs would forcethousands of drug addicts back on the streets. They predicted a dramatic increase in drug-related crime, homelessness, poverty and familyviolence.
"It would be a pure disaster," said Arch Edington, director of Raft House in Crownsville. "Three-quarters of them were court-ordered here. We would have to give people back to the courts; they would have to go back to jail."
Center directors pointed out that treatment usually runs about $25 a day, about half the cost of sending an addict to jail.
AIDS activists and hot line volunteers joinedyesterday's protests.
Audrey and two other Anne Arundel residentssuffering from AIDS decried the end of state-financed medical aid and General Public Assistance, Maryland's welfare program for poor people who can't work because of short-term disabilities. Without medicalinsurance, they said, they won't be able to afford medicine and expensive experimental drugs that suppress symptoms of the deadly disease.
Karen Goldman Lyon, director of the county's Sexual Assault Center, said the budget cuts have hurt the most vulnerable people, "the population least able to advocate for themselves."
The rape crisis center and hot line lost $92,000 in state support, about 23 percent of its budget, Lyon said. She promised to struggle to keep the same counseling and support services for victims of rape, domestic violence and incest.
"To pull the plug and not provide services, especiallyin times when people are in crisis so much more than ever, is just atravesty of justice," she said.
The county's two Youth Service Bureaus in Harundale and Annapolis will likely close because of the cuts. Schaefer's plan eliminated financing for all 22 of Maryland's teencounseling and recreation centers, which rely on the state for at least 60 percent of their budgets.
"I'm devastated," said Adel O'Rourke, director of the Harundale program. "When I got the letter, I went through a bunch of emotions, like grief, not because of my job, butbecause of the work we do. What we do works."
Without the programs, many troubled teen-agers could wind up back on the streets or in institutions, she warned. O'Rourke and Ruth Tillet, head of the Annapolis bureau, said they're looking for alternative sources of money. They're also clinging to the hope that the state won't go through with the cuts, as happened last year.
The cuts to Anne Arundel's non-profit residential addiction treatment programs, which would close Nov.1, are:
* Hope House in Crownsville, which has 22 beds and serves250 clients a year, will lose $467,744 in state money. The program also gets $28,600 in county assistance.
* Second Genesis in Crownsville, which has 126 beds, will lose $513,916. The program receives noaid from the county.
* Raft House in Crownsville will lose $336,355. The program gets $30,800 from the county.
* Chrysalis House inPasadena will lose $114,032. It gets $40,700 in county money.
* Samaritan House in Annapolis will lose $93,156. It gets $27,500 in county money.
* Damascus in northern Anne Arundel will lose $104,370.It gets $25,000 in county money.
County Executive Robert R. Neallsaid he will meet with groups hardest hit by the cuts before finalizing the county's budget reduction plan by Nov. 1.
County government lost $9.3 million in direct state aid under the cuts, but officialssaid other cuts could add another $5 million to that. The cuts hit schools, Anne Arundel Community College and the county Health Department particularly hard.
"I think we can minimize the impact on services, but there will probably be some cuts in services," Neall said.