Press Release: Risking Arrest, AIDS Activists Commit to Occupying War Room for 24 Hours to Secure $70 Million for End AIDS Funding

For Immediate Release| March 28, 2016

Press Release

Contact: Jeremy Saunders, 917-676-8041 / jeremy@vocal-ny.org

Without Any Meaningful Commitment from Governor Cuomo to Fund Housing Assistance for HIV+ New Yorkers, the AIDS Community Returns to its Activist Roots

Activists Will Honor the Over 100,000 New Yorkers Who Have Died of AIDS by Replicating the World AIDS Day Tradition of the ‘Reading of the Names’ Until Tomorrow at Noon, When They Will Hold a Press Conference

Capitol, Albany NY – During a raucous rally in the War Room with roughly 150 low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and their allies, speakers called on Governor Cuomo to keep his promise to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York by 2020 by ensuring the End AIDS NY 2020 Community Coalition’s $70 million budget ask was in this year’s budget to put the state on track to achieve this historic goal.

Between chants of “AIDS housing, saves lives” and “invest millions, save billions, and save lives”, most speakers focused on the $50 million portion of the coalition’s budget ask that calls for rental assistance for low-income HIV+ New Yorkers across the state. Despite the fact that stable housing and the need for such a rental assistance program was a critical component of the “blueprint” to end AIDS endorsed by the Governor, and developed by policy experts he convened to a task force to create the plan, there was no funding for the program in his executive budget, nor his 30-day amended budget. Since then, there has been growing frustration with the Governor among some of the same HIV/AIDS leaders that are members of his end AIDS task force, and who stood with him when he made the historic announcement in June of 2014.

“It is impossible to achieve this historic goal, a goal the Governor himself committed to, without investing in immediate housing assistance for low-income HIV+ New Yorkers,” said Jason Walker, organizer for VOCAL-NY and living with HIV/AIDS. “the same experts he enlisted to develop his “blueprint” to end AIDS have provided him ample evidence proving this, and showing the $4.5 billion in healthcare cost savings the state could incur through the reduction in new HIV infections. Yet all the Governor’s spokespeople say is that he is committed to ending AIDS, and negotiations are happening. But not for long.”

AIDS Activists Risk Arrest with a ‘Reading of the Names’

Organizers of the rally paused to announce that a smaller contingent would commit to staying in the War Room for 24 hours, risking arrest, until noon the following day when they would hold a press conference.

With podiums set in a circle, and books filled with the names of people who have died of AIDS related illness, protesters said they would replicate the World AIDS Day tradition of the ‘Reading of the Names’, where the names of people who have died in the 30 years since the beginning of the epidemic are read aloud.

At the top of every hour, organizers said they would read the below statement, invoking the over 100,000 New Yorkers lost to AIDS, to raise pressure on the Governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader to include the $70 million budget ask in this year’s budget.

Statement from the End AIDS NY 2020 Coalition

In the AIDS movement, we have long honored the dead by fighting for the living. We honor those we have lost—our friends, family, loved ones—by fighting for a day when we will no longer lose anyone.

That day is closer than it has ever been. Today, we honor over 100,000 New Yorkers who have died from AIDS, by demanding an end to this epidemic that has plagued us for over 30 years. We ask that Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, and members of both houses join us in honoring the memory of those we have lost by allocating $70 million in this year’s budget toward New York’s plan to end AIDS by 2020.

While we would hope the human cost and vision of an AIDS-free generation would be motivation enough, we continue to appeal to your wisdom as leaders who must manage budgets and a multitude of issues.  To that end, we have provided ample evidence that investing millions now will reduce new HIV infections and save billions—an estimated $4.5 billion in healthcare costs. We have shown you the path to ending this epidemic by ensuring people have access to treatment, as well as housing. And we have reinforced that without the critical component of stable housing, we will not achieve our 2020 goal.

We have the tools to end this epidemic. In honor of those 100,000 who we have lost, in the face of the 129,000 New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS, and with recognition of the roughly 3,000 who will contract HIV annually if we do not act now, we must make our 2020 goal a reality. A $70 million investment now is a small price to pay to make sure the list of names of those we’ve lost that we read aloud today does not get any longer—by saving lives and money in the months and years to come and finally achieving an AIDS-Free New York State.

We will end AIDS in New York. We hope you will join us.

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