History of Hassle Free Clinic
Hassle Free Clinic began operating in February 1973, when counsellors from Rochdale Free Clinic opened a 24-hour, seven days a week street clinic on Yonge Street. The clinic was funded by a grant from the federal government’s Local Initiatives Project, and offered drug crisis counselling and treatment in a discreet and non-judgemental manner, as our name suggests.
By 1975, the drug-oriented street scene had largely disappeared. Meanwhile, the clinic had built a reputation on providing “hassle-free” medical care, which was already attracting a wide range of men and women looking for STI and birth control services (by then the clinic’s main programs).
A small but significant step was taken in 1977 when the clinic’s global budget was covered by a shared cost grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and the City of Toronto Board of Health. The grant came as a dramatic last-minute intervention, when the clinic had exhausted its funds and was faced with imminent closure.
In January 1980, Hassle Free Clinic moved to 556 Church Street where it reorganized into separate clinics for men and for women. The separation was the result of increasing numbers of (mostly gay) male patients and limited space, making it difficult to serve men and women at the same time. The clinic was widely viewed as a “gay clinic” in the early 1980s, though in fact it has always seen large numbers of heterosexual men and women as well.
Following the first wave of the AIDS crisis in 1983-84, the clinic began offering HIV education and prevention counselling. When HIV testing became available in 1985, the clinic immediately offered anonymous testing. Anonymous testing was illegal in Ontario at the time. The number of male patients testing HIV+ increased each year, reaching a peak of 230 in 1990.
The seropositive rate in the remained stable during this period. In the late 1980s, the clinic introduced HIV+ group programs that were well received by patients, and highly regarded by other health providers.
In 1989 the clinic mounted a campaign to legalize anonymous testing. Under pressure from community organizations, Toronto City Council and the Board of Health publicly endorsed the program.
The Ministry of Health refused to support the issue until January 1992, when the NDP government legalized anonymous testing. The clinic developed the province’s anonymous testing guidelines, and trained staff in designated sites across Ontario. In 2001, Hassle Free became the first clinic in Ontario to offer rapid HIV testing on site.
Since 1975, Hassle Free Clinic has played an important front-line role in identifying and serving the sexual health needs of a large and diverse at-risk population. We are increasingly called upon as consultants in developing health policy and educational programming.
And, without compromising our front-line status, we are now firmly established as a major player in Toronto Public Health’s sexual health programme, as well as the Ministry of Health’s anonymous testing programme.
After three decades of providing medical care to high-risk patients in a non-traditional setting, we are proud to be one of Canada’s largest and most influential sexual health clinics.
On 1 June 2004 the clinic moved to its current home at 66 Gerrard Street East, and that chapter has just begun. Stay tuned!