The New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) became VOCAL-NY in fall 2010 to better reflect our multi-issue, multi-constituency organizing work in New York’s most marginalized communities. Our members also recognized that the issues and identities we organized around were interconnected and part of a broader movement for social justice. Today our community organizing seeks to end the HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C epidemics, war on drugs and mass incarceration, while creating more healthy and just communities and strengthening democratic participation in our society.
VOCAL-NY, then known as NYCAHN, was formed by a group of progressive AIDS housing providers in the mid-1990s. Jennifer Flynn was one of those providers and was hired as the first Coordinator of this new housing advocacy group when it was a project of the Supportive Housing Network of NY. Through the early involvement of Joe Bostic and Jose Capestany, two HIV-positive injection drug users who were formerly incarcerated, VOCAL-NY immediately began focusing on community organizing and political education to build power among marginalized New Yorkers.
While many people believe that the HIV/AIDS crisis ended with the availability of breakthrough regimens of new medication in the mid-90s, the reality is that the epidemic was becoming more concentrated in low-income communities of color at a time when the safety net was being shredded, which made it difficult for many people living with HIV/AIDS to benefit from treatment advances. VOCAL-NY was formed during this time when attention slowly shifted to addressing the root causes of the domestic epidemic, like homelessness and incarceration, and our brand of direct action activism adapted many of the key strategies from the first wave of AIDS activism to deal with the challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS in poor communities.
VOCAL-NY became an independent organization in January of 1999 in order to fully commit to our vision of being led by the people who were directly affected, with Jennifer Flynn as the founding Executive Director. Our members always recognized that HIV/AIDS was not an isolated health issue but rather a symptom of injustices rooted in race, gender and economic inequalities. VOCAL-NY was honored by the Union Square Awards and recognized with a New York City Council Hero Award in 2002.
Jose Capestany and Joe Bostic passed away in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The New York Times remembered Joe, along with House Works co-founder Keith Cyler, in this article shortly after their deaths.
In 2007, Jennifer Flynn became the Managing Director of Health GAP, an organization dedicated to ensuring all people living with HIV/AIDS have access to affordable medication, although she remains on the Board of Directors for VOCAL-NY.