STATEMENT: VOCAL-NY Calls to Stop Money In Politics and Lift Roadblocks to Progressive Change

Today, VOCAL-NY joins allied organizations to protest outside of NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s high-dollar fundraiser for the “Speaker Heastie PAC.” In response to the news that the demonstration will be counter-protested by supporters of the Speaker, and to calls from allies to urge us to reconsider our participation, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Jawanza Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY

Advocates for Low and No-Income New Yorkers Call to Stop Money In Politics and Lift Roadblocks to Progressive Change

“As a Queer Black New Yorker living with HIV who joined VOCAL-NY five years ago as a homeless member from the Bronx, I could not be more proud to be a part of this work, where I fight for just policies that uplift me and the tens of thousands across the state who are the most marginalized. Like many New Yorkers, it is my dream to run for office one day and give back to the communities that took care of me–but that would not be possible without the proposed public donor match that was blocked in this years budget. For 20 years, VOCAL-NY has been committed to uplifting the voices of this State’s most marginalized–the homeless, the incarcerated, the criminalized and stigmatized by drug use, and those living with HIV/AIDS–to build a people’s movement for radical progressive change. The events of today prove that now more than ever, New York needs fair elections that are free from corporate and Big Donor influence in order to build the power of vulnerable and everyday New Yorkers and tear down systems of oppression and injustice. We will now and forever be committed to these ideals.

Our obligations are first and foremost to the thousands of VOCAL-NY members we organize in chapters across the state, and the memories of hundreds more that we have lost over the last two decades–people who were forgotten, neglected, locked in cages and left to die, and who rose up demanding to live, and then to thrive in the State of New York. And while we have won many victories, New York remains in crisis, with record homelessness, record overdose deaths, and communities across the state that are gentrifying in violent and harmful ways. For many years, the power of big money in Albany has been a direct roadblock to the common-sense progressive victories that would save lives, including support for the homeless, universal rent control, a Green New Deal, marijuana justice, progressive tax policy, and more. That is why it is our moral duty to stand up today in support of a fair elections and against money in politics–as we have so many times in the past–to be seen, to live, and to thrive.”

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VOCAL-NY Commends Speaker Heastie’s Support of Ending Money Bail, Await Legislation

For Immediate Release:

January 31, 2019

Contact: Nick 347-259-4835

In response to remarks made by New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, today at Trinity Church Wall Street, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Civil Rights Campaign Director Nick Encalada-Malinowski.

“This morning, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced his “100% support” for the full elimination of money bail in New York State. We commend Speaker Heastie for taking the morally just position, and look forward to forthcoming legislation from the Assembly codifying this commitment. With strong support for the proposal already in the Senate, the legislative path to eradicating our money-based bail system has never been more clear. However, the details of any legislation eliminating money bail will be important. We will remain vigilant to ensure that any bill also protects due process and, most importantly, dramatically reduces the number of New Yorkers who cycle through County jails through out the state year after year.” – Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Civil Rights Campaign Director, VOCAL-NY.

The Speaker’s full remarks are available here:

New York Senate Bill Eliminating Money Bail:


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An Open Letter to All NYS Legislators Challenging Them To Take Action on the Overdose Crisis

Good Morning New York State Lawmakers,

Yesterday drug policy activists, mothers who have lost their children to overdose, and service providers from across the states performed an act of civil disobedience outside Governor Cuomo’s office to demand the piloting of the five Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC)—also known as safer consumption spaces–and 13 people took an arrest in the name of those who have died.

Since Governor Cuomo’s first term, over 20,059 New Yorkers have died from an overdose, and although he claims that New York is a national leader on our state’s overdose crisis, deaths continue to rise. There have been seven consecutive years of increasing overdose deaths, and overdose is taking more New Yorker’s lives than suicides, homicides, and traffic accidents combined.

The Governor is right, ‘we must do everything we can to fight the overdose crisis,’ but he has continually underfunded and half-step policies that will turn the tide on overdose deaths. We need bold leadership—leadership dedicated to evidence-based, compassionate public health solutions.

Today we are calling on you to be bold leaders in our fight to save lives.

  • Become a cosigner and support the Safer Consumption Services Act(S498/A60), and tell Governor Cuomo to move forward with the five OPC pilots, one life lost is too many.  OPC are one solution that will save lives, and we must urgently implement these pilots.
  • Become a cosigner and support medication-assisted treatment insideall NYS jails and prisons (S8914A/A833). People entering incarceration are forced to inhumanely withdrawal often with no aide, and people leaving incarceration are 40 times more likely to die of an overdose the first two weeks of release. Rhode Island legislated medication-assisted treatment inside prisons and jails and saw a decrease in overdose deaths last year. This will save lives.
  • Fight for significant funding dedicated to solutions that work. The Governor has not allocated any new money to the overdose crisis. Instead, the $200 million the Governor claims is going to the crisis is supplanted funding. And, the $3.75 million dedicated to medication-assisted treatment is not also new funding and isn’t explicitly stated to be used for medication-assisted treatment, but correctional health. To reduce overdose deaths, our state must really invest in proven public health interventions.
  • Reject Governor Cuomo’s wrongheaded criminalization approach to fentanyl. Last year, the Senate Republicans’ Heroin Taskforce proposed an amendment to the NYS public health low to schedule fentanyl analogs as controlled substances. Governor Cuomo has proposed the same amendment, which will allow law enforcement to arrest and prosecute anyone that manufactures, sells, and possess fentanyl. These criminalization approaches do not reduce overdose deaths or decrease drug use. Instead, the open the door for drug induced homicide laws where friends and loved ones who use drugs together not only suffer the loss of their loved one, but face a prison sentence. Further, last year, over half of the overdoses in NYC were fentanyl-involved.

We look forward to working with you all to end overdose in New York. To end this crisis, we need each and every one of you—we need you to be the bold leaders.


Jasmine Budnella

Drug Policy Coordinator, VOCAL-NY

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STATEMENT: Formerly Incarcerated NYers Speak Out on Missing Piece of Cuomo’s Discovery Plan


January 17, 2019

Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowski, 347-259-4835

In response to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address and Policy Briefing Book as it pertains to Discovery Reform in 2019, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Eileen Maher, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

Cuomo’s Discovery Reform Proposal Ignores Critical Issue of Evidence at Arraignment

“It’s great that Governor Andrew Cuomo has acknowledged the need to reform New York’s archaic discovery laws. However, the proposal the Governor put forward on Tuesday has a significant, glaring omission – not requiring any evidence at all at arraignment or anytime within 15 days. It’s outrageous to suggest that a fair system does not require prosecutors to prove anything or show any real hard evidence in order to bring a case into court or to hold someone in jail. You can lose everything if you are incarcerated for 15 days – your job, your kids, your health can suffer because you aren’t getting good care. The consequences are especially severe for low-income people. For as long as prosecutors remain the gatekeepers of evidence, there must be some requirement that they turn certain things over at the commencement of a criminal case.” – Eileen Maher, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

Background: It was a huge week for Discovery Reform in New York State with the introduction of a new bill supported by both the Senate and the Assembly and the NYT coming out in support of the effort.

1)         New Bill:

2)         NYT:


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STATEMENT: Activists Challenge Cuomo’s Claim to be “National Leader” on Overdose, as NY sees 200% Rise Over 9 Years


January 15, 2019

Contact: Jasmine Budnella, 720-480-5262,

In response to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address and Policy Briefing Book as it pertains to his plan to take on the unprecedented overdose epidemic in 2019, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Jasmine Budnella, Drug Policy Coordinator.

Drug Policy Activists Refute Governor’s Claim to be Leading the Fight on the Overdose Crisis

“In December, Governor Cuomo citing FDR said, ‘that you cannot spell progressive without ‘progress.’ You can’t be a politician who speaks and raises peoples’ hopes and then accomplishes nothing.’ The set of policies the Governor laid out today are neither progressive nor progress, and will raise hopes and accomplish nothing while New York’s overdose rates continue to increase.Governor Cuomo is correct about the scale of the crisis—there has been a 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths since 2010—but his ideas for interventions are watered down, under-funded and ultimately half-steps that do not go far enough. While he claims New York is a national progressive leader, Vermont, one state away, implemented a plan over 10 years ago making them a true national leader in treatment access—which lead to a decrease in overdose deaths. The Governor’s measly investment in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) access in prisons similarly pales in comparison to Rhode Island’s legislated access of MAT in prisons and jails, a notable cause of reduction in their state’s overdose deaths. He failed to use this opportunity to announce his support for a pilot program to create Safe Consumption Spaces (also known as Overdose Prevention Centers) in New York State, a commitment he has seemingly forgotten.

The continual grandiose promises of new dollars being allocated to the crisis are fabrications of funding that is redirected and recycled. The most atrocious effort proposed by the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ leader is the very proposal the Republican-led Senate Heroin Task Force pushed for last year—scheduling and criminalizing fentanyl analogs.  Not only has criminalization proven to be ineffective and rooted in failed drug war tactics, this approach actually risks increasing overdose deaths.

It’s a new day in Albany, and we will not allow our Governor to tout rhetoric and quotes while our communities continue to die at historic rates.


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STATEMENT: Drug Policy Activists Acknowledge Mayor de Blasio for Committing to Stand Up to the DOJ & Provide Legal Cover to Overdose Prevention Centers


December, 5, 2018

Contact: Jeremy Saunders, 917-676-8041,

Drug Policy Activists Applaud Mayor de Blasio for Committing to Stand Up to the DOJ & Provide Legal Cover to Overdose Prevention Centers

In response to POLITICO’s breaking news that New York is moving closer to green-lighting Overdose Prevention Center (OPC) pilot programs, also known as safer consumption spaces, in New York City, and Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to defend OPCs if threatened by Trump and the Department of Justice (DOJ), VOCAL-NY has released the following statement, attributable to Jeremy Saunders, Co-Executive Director.

“Mayor de Blasio has shown national leadership by publicly stating his commitment to use his political pulpit to stand up to the DOJ, and that OPCs have strong legal standing. While other politicians have pointed to the DOJ’s position on OPCs as an excuse for inaction, the Mayor has clearly stated that saving lives is more important to New York City, and he will not allow federal interference in this mission. US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s argument against OPCs is rooted in fear mongering, inaccurate data and a complete lack of evidence. The most recent DOJ statement appears to cite a study that was retracted (because of concerns in its methodology), and it fictitiously suggests that OPCs increase crime when studies–including the retracted article–illustrate the opposite and continually state that these sites save lives. Across the country, there is recognition that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem and Mayor de Blasio’s public stand against the DOJ proves he is committing to action, not rhetoric.”


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STATEMENT: Community Advocates Condemn MTA’s Decision to Crack Down on Racist Fare Evasion Arrests, Call for Decriminalization


Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowski, 347-259-4835,

Community Advocates Condemns MTA’s Decision to Crack Down on Racist Fare Evasion Arrests, Call for Decriminalization

In response to reports that the MTA is blaming increases in fare evasion for its ballooning deficit and expanding efforts to curb fare evasion–including physically blocking entrances to subway gates–VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director.

“The MTA has a litany of problems and somehow has decided once again to place the burden of their failures on the backs of low-income Black and Brown New Yorkers who are simply trying to get to work, school, and wherever they need to go. The hysterical tone of Andy Byford’s announcement coupled with the de Blasio administration’s denial that fare evasion is driven by poverty in our “tale of two cities” has created a media frenzy that will only push low-income New Yorkers further into the shadows and the outskirts of the city that they call home. 89 percent of fare evasion arrests are of Black and Latino New Yorkers–and now the MTA is creating “fare evasion strike teams” to continue the seemingly endless re-naming of broken windows policing.  If any progressive NYC politician wants to protect their reputation and truly speak for this city’s most vulnerable, they will condemn this rhetoric and work with us to decriminalize fare evasion once and for all.”

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For Immediate Release
October 5, 2018
Contact: Paulette Soltani, 775-340-2359,
Follow updates on Twitter: @vocalnewyork


After repeated calls by homeless New Yorkers and advocates to increase his affordable housing commitment to house the homeless, dozens gather to demand action. There are over 61,000 homeless in New York City.

SEE VIDEO (Mayor is confronted at 1:00, speak-out begins at 3:30):

NEW YORK CITY – A group of homeless activists, led by a 72-year old woman who has been homeless since 2015 confronted Mayor de Blasio inside his gym in Park Slope this morning and questioned his commitment to ending the record-high homelessness crisis in New York City.

Outside the gym, homeless New Yorkers and advocates led a sidewalk “teach-in” on de Blasio’s affordable housing plan and the needs of homeless New Yorkers They led chants demanding 30,000 units of affordable housing be set aside for homeless people and held signs that read: “De Blasio to homeless NYers: stay homeless!” and “De Blasio’s “fairest big city”: 61,000 homeless, 300,000 units of affordable housing, only 5% of housing plan for homeless NYers.”

The rally comes at the heels of calls on the Mayor to increase his commitment to rehouse homeless New Yorkers. Fifty-eight organizations from across New York City have joined the House our Future NY campaign to call on Mayor de Blasio to increase his housing commitments for homeless New Yorkers from five percent of his housing plan to ten percent, including 24,000 units created through new construction. The Mayor has refused every time, saying on September 21st, “No is the answer…I think our best hope going forward is the preventative efforts and the broader efforts to raise wages and benefits to get at the heart of the matter.” Advocates have pointed out that prevention strategies or raising wages do nothing to address the needs of the over 61,000 New Yorkers who are currently homeless.

Statements from the action are below:

“I shook the Mayor’s hand this morning, and asked why he wouldn’t do more to help homeless New Yorkers like myself. I am 72 years old and have been homeless for three years, but he made it clear that his morning workout was more important to him. We’re not asking for much: commit 30,000 units out of your housing plan for homeless New Yorkers.  Every time we ask him to do more for homeless New Yorkers, he changes the subject to prevention and the economy–but am I just supposed to stay homeless?” asked Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

“I am lucky: my time in the shelter system was shorter than most people’s time there. I was homeless for over a year and a half, but last week I finally moved into my apartment. I am grateful. But I know what it feels like to compete for such a limited amount of housing. If Mayor de Blasio wants to be remembered as a real progressive, he’ll have to commit substantial resources towards rehousing over 61,000 people in our city,” said GG Morgan, Housing Organizer at VOCAL-NY.

“Mayor de Blasio may love working out, but his plan for housing homeless New Yorkers is just weak. A mere 5 percent of the units in his plan are set aside for homeless families, at a time when homelessness continues at near-record levels. This is simply unacceptable and perpetuates the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ he vowed to fix. The Mayor must set aside 10 percent of his total plan for homeless New Yorkers, including 24,000 units to be created through new construction, in order to make a meaningful reduction in record homelessness,” said Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless.


CityLimits: De Blasio has no comprehensive plan to rehouse the homeless

WNYC: The Brian Lehrer Show-Ask the Mayor (minute 6:00)

NYNMedia: NYC’s affordable housing push leaves out key group—homeless individuals and families

CityLimits: De Blasio can fulfill his progressive promise by retooling his housing plan


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BREAKING: Gov Cuomo Announces Plan to Appoint First-in-Nation Hep C Elimination Task Force

Contact: Clifton Garmon, 336-909-2852,
Follow updates on Twitter: @vocalnewyork


Governor Cuomo Announces Plan to Appoint a Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force and Rolls Out Much Needed Regulatory Changes to Improve Hepatitis C Treatment in New York State

In March of 2018, Governor Cuomo made a historic commitment to eliminate hepatitis C in New York State. This announcement marked the first time in U.S. history that a Governor has committed to eliminating the hepatitis C epidemic that is killing more people than the combined deaths of any other infectious disease.

Making good on this commitment, today the Governor announced plans to appoint a Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force. Following the successful model of the Ending the Epidemic (ETE) Taskforce, which established a Blueprint for ending AIDS as an epidemic, the HCV task force would create recommendations that would be detailed in a HCV Elimination Blueprint.

“The creation of a task force brings us one step closer to a real elimination plan,” said Clifton Garmon, Senior Policy Analyst at VOCAL-NY, “For too long, we have failed to realize the severity of this epidemic. We need to act now if we are going to eliminate hepatitis C, and a task force is a very necessary step in the right direction.”

In addition to the task force, the Governor stated his plans for regulatory changes including:

  • Modifying reimbursement and licensure regulations allowing OASAS and OMH-licensed treatment providers can provide on-site hepatitis C testing and treatment.

  • Extending limited primary care licenses to include harm reduction settings, improving HCV treatment and medically assisted treatment (MAT) access for people impacted by HCV and/or opioid use disorder.

  • Authorizing Medicaid reimbursements for harm reduction services, such as medication management and treatment adherence counseling, to build provider capacity to deliver harm reduction services and hepatitis C treatment.

  • Expanding syringe exchange access by working with non-profit, religious, and local government entities across the state to distribute and collect syringes, and by allowing pharmacies registered in the Expanded Syringe Access Program to promote the availability of hypodermic syringes without a prescription.

  • Allowing Medicaid and commercial insurance reimbursement for HCV treatments via telemedicine, improving HCV providers’ ability to treat in rural regions of the state.

  • Extending HCV medication prior authorizations periods, and removing excessive viral load tests, avoiding unnecessary disruptions in HCV treatment.

Background: An estimated 280,000 New Yorkers are living with or are affected by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), an infectious and deadly liver disease that has become the primary cause of liver cancer. In 2015 nearly 1,000 New Yorkers died of hepatitis C related causes. This is a low estimate considering an additional 1,634 New Yorkers died of liver cancer, which is often directly linked to HCV according to the CDC.  With every delay resulting in another avoidable death, the Governor’s appointment of a task force comes at a critical time in New York. The establishment of a task force was one of many recommendations resulting from the 2017 Hepatitis C Elimination Summit, another first in the nation milestone for hepatitis C.


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STATEMENT: Advocates Slam de Blasio’s New Marijuana Arrest Plan



STATEMENT: Advocates Slam de Blasio’s New Marijuana Arrest Plan

Nick Encalada-Malinowski,, 347-259-4835
Kassandra Frederique,, 646-209-0374

Follow updates on Twitter: @vocalnewyork and @DPA_NY

In response to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement about new policies for marijuana arrests, VOCAL-NY and Drug Policy Alliance released the following statement, attributable to Civil Rights Campaign Director Nick Encalada-Malinowski and Drug Policy Alliance New York Director Kassandra Frederique.

“It’s frustrating that as the New York State Health Department moves toward legalization, the City is continuing its shameful history of racist marijuana enforcement. It is also confusing because the new policy does not appear to address racial disparities at all, which was the issue that supposedly prompted this in-house review.

The exceptions that the Mayor has laid out — arrests for people on parole or probation, people with criminal records, people with warrants or lacking ID, or for ‘officer discretion’ — will compound existing collateral consequences and all but guarantee the status quo of racial disparity continues.

People who are directly impacted were not consulted in the Mayor’s review of NYPD enforcement, and although DPA spoke with NYPD the policy shift is not reflective of our joint position: we have firmly said there should be no arrests, no summons, no using marijuana as a pretext for police interactions and the beginning of a process to repair the vast harm caused by NYPD’s enforcement of marijuana prohibition which has almost exclusively targeted communities of color.”

TomorrowJune 20, advocates, community members, and NYC elected officials will hold a press conference and rally to address the NYC’s new marijuana policy and calling on the Mayor to also instruct the City’s agencies (NYCHA, Administration for Children’s Services, professional licensing boards) to address the harms caused by past arrests and reform their policies around marijuana.


What: Marijuana Justice Rally

When: June 20 at noon

Where: City Hall steps NYC



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