Contact: Alyssa Aguilera,, 917-200-1446

Advocates applaud long-awaited endorsement of SCS, a public health tool that saves lives and connects people to needed care.

In response to the Mayor’s endorsement of Safer Consumption Spaces (SCS) and plans to move forward with their creation, VOCAL-NY has released the following statements.

“More people are dying of overdose in New York City than ever before and there’s no sign of stopping anytime in the near future. Safer consumption spaces will save lives. They are a proven public health intervention that prevent overdose deaths and connect people to the care and services they want,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY. “The reality is that people use drugs and forcing individuals to inject in public bathrooms and parks is unsafe and inhumane. We are pleased that New York City is finally moving forward on this lifesaving effort.”

“Finally the Mayor has come out in support of SCS to save lives. We have been fighting this fight for years,” said Asia Betancourt, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY. “It may be too late for my brother, who died of overdose, but I know he is smiling down on New York City today. It won’t be too late for the thousands of people who desperately need these services.”


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Mayor and First Lady Dodge Safer Consumption Spaces as Overdose Prevention

For Immediate Release
April 19, 2018
Contact: Jasmine Budnella,720-480-5262,

Mayor and First Lady Continue to Dodge Safer Consumption Spaces as Overdose Prevention

In response to Mayor de Blasio’s appearance at a town hall in the Bronx on April 18, 2018, and First Lady McCray’s Letter to the New York Times Editor regarding the article “Overdose Antidote is Supposed to Be Easy to Get. It’s Not,” VOCAL-NY released the following statement.

“At a time where addressing the overdose epidemic requires innovation and compassion, the Mayor and the First Lady have the audacity to look New Yorkers in the face and tell them that their community’s lives are only worth saving if they have the patience and stamina to sit through the muddled spiral of a hotline number. We called the prized 1-888-NYC-WELL number and were told naloxone would cost $136 without insurance, and were directed to call 311 to find where free naloxone was available. During another call, because the person calling uses heroin, the caller was told they would have to be assessed by a clinic to ‘see’ if they are eligible to receive naloxone. Both the Mayor and the First Lady have refused to take a position on the well-researched, public health intervention of Safer Consumption Spaces (SCS)—which are guaranteed to save lives from overdose.

By promoting a hotline in which callers experience the humiliating process of outing oneself to an operator when needing naloxone, the First Lady, titled chief stigma buster by the Mayor, is doing all but busting stigma. Even more, the Mayor, during a town hall in the Bronx (the borough hardest hit by the overdose crisis) had the nerve to have the community repeat the 1-888 number three times while simultaneously disregarding the evidence of SCS.

It is the administration’s ignorance of SCS public health function, and politics, that is keeping this intervention at bay. The Mayor and First Lady do not recognize that people who use drugs need more compassion and services than an operator or a pharmacy (that may or may not have naloxone). If the administration doesn’t act to implement SCS, they are responsible for the lives lost in this crisis.”


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Statement in response to executive order to restore the right to vote for people on parole


Contact: Alyssa Aguilera,, 917-200-1446

In response to Governor Cuomo’s announcement to restore the right to vote for people on parole, VOCAL-NY released the following statement on April 18, 2018, attributable to David Schermerhorn a community leader at VOCAL-NY

“It’s about time. Politicians have always ignored people like me on parole because we couldn’t do anything for them, now we have a voice. When you get locked up you lose your rights to do everything. Once you get out, it’s basically the same – it’s so hard to get a job while you are on parole – but now one of those barriers is gone. It makes me feel connected to society again. But we have to do more. There are so many elderly people who are eligible for parole who can’t get out. Look at Herman Bell. But now they will have a voice on the outside through us.”



VOCAL-NY is a statewide grassroots membership organization that builds power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration, and homelessness in order to create healthy and just communities. We accomplish this through community organizing, leadership development, public education, direct services, participatory research and direct action.

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Statement: As Budget Stalls, Activists Question: Where is Progressive Leadership?


Contact: Jeremy Saunders, jeremy@vocal-ny.org917-676-8041, Andrea Bichan,, 551-427-6280

In response to stalled budget negotiations, VOCAL-NY released the following statement on March 30, 2018, attributable to Co-Executive Director Jeremy Saunders.

“The ultimate irony–after months of desperate low-income communities pleading with Democratic legislators, who repeatedly said that comprehensive bail reform, housing for the homeless, and public health interventions to stop the exploding overdose crisis were impossible to pass in the budget, the budget is delayed by a State Senator taking a stand on an issue that won’t save any lives at all.

Governor Cuomo’s budget, tax, and policy priorities have led to a homelessness crisis of over 89,000 people; a criminal justice system where 200,000 people per year cycle through its jails; an overdose crisis that took the lives of over 3,600 people in our state in 2016, and a hepatitis C epidemic that is claiming more lives than any other infectious disease combined; and unfortunately the legislature is on track to give us more of the same, because our representatives don’t appear to have the will to act.

Any “progressive” politician could do what Senator Felder is doing–and with lives on the line, they should have done it a long time ago. Albany is failing us.”


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VOCAL-NY Responds to President Trump’s Opioid Announcement


Contact: Jeremy Saunders,, 917-676-8041

In response to President Trump’s announcement on March 19, 2018, including his support of the death penalty for people who sell drugs, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Jeremy Saunders, Co-Executive Director.

“The Trump Administration’s promise for more punishment, including even the death penalty, is ugly and ineffective at tackling the overdose crisis. His “get tough” talk, matched with his refusal to actually support harm reduction and public health with legitimate funding, is a dual death sentence for communities across America. The real question is: will politicians in the President’s party denounce these remarks and call for financial investment in the public health strategies that are proven to work? Here in New York, we’ve already seen two Republican members of Congress – Collins and Reed – either support Trump’s death sentencing proposals or advance their own death sentencing proposals, with not enough support towards putting federal dollars towards desperately needed public health interventions like safe consumption spaces, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, and providing naloxone to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who need it.”


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MARCH 16, 2018

Contact:         Jason Walker, 202-823-8568,, Paulette Soltani,

In response to Governor Cuomo’s announcement to expand access to the enhanced rental assistance and 30% rent cap protection to 4,700 New Yorkers living with HIV outside of New York City, VOCAL-NY released the following statement from spokesperson Jason Walker, HIV/AIDS Campaign Coordinator at VOCAL-NY:

“Today the Governor repeated the same flawed commitment that was made clear in his Executive Budget proposal and once again his commitment fell short. Governor Cuomo’s proposal does not mandate localities to expand the Enhanced Rental Allowance and 30% rent cap protection. Instead, it allows local social service districts the option to provide housing support or to deny them. The state should be replicating the successful efforts of New York City where all people living with HIV are entitled to this life-saving support.

 “People living with HIV are acutely impacted by the housing crisis. Failing to mandate localities will perpetuate inequity in housing access for people with HIV in upstate NY and Long Island who have been ignored and neglected for too long while their health deteriorates and people die. If Governor Cuomo is serious about ending AIDS, then he must find the resources to guarantee the Enhanced Rental Assistance and 30% rent cap protection to all HIV-positive New Yorkers.”

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One Year After Historic Hepatitis C Summit, Governor Cuomo Commits to Ending Hepatitis C in New York State


Contact: Clifton Garmon,  (336)909-2852

Announcement makes New York the first state in the nation to make this commitment

Over 200,000 New Yorkers are living with hepatitis C – a curable, yet life threatening disease; over 50% do not know they are infected.

Hepatitis C killed over 19,000 people in the U.S. in 2015.

Albany, NY – Governor Cuomo publicly announced a commitment to ending the hepatitis C (HCV) epidemic in New York. The announcement builds off his 2015 commitment to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York State. In the announcement, Cuomo committed to allocating resources this year which would be the first increase in hepatitis C funding in a decade.

This announcement comes one year after New York State held the first Hepatitis C Elimination Summit in the nation. The summit was a culmination of a year’s worth of work by 94 New York-based health experts, providers, government representatives and advocates that represent roughly 50 different hospitals, universities, health departments, and community-based organizations. A Consensus Statement  signed by 147 organizations – including the New York State Association of County Health Officials, and 10 County Health Departments around the state – was delivered to the Governor this year calling on “Governor Andrew Cuomo, the NYS Legislature, and industry partners to make a joint commitment to hepatitis C elimination, and for the appointment of a formal NYS Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force.”

In response, VOCAL-NY released the following statement:  “The commitment to end hepatitis C in New York State is a victory for over 200,000 New Yorkers living with hepatitis C and countless New Yorkers who are at risk of infection,” said Clifton Garmon, Senior Policy Analyst from VOCAL-NY.  “The Governor could begin his ambitious plan by investing $10.8 million into key public health interventions, and by finally establishing safe consumption spaces (SCS) in New York State, which are proven to reduce the rates of HCV. With every delay resulting in another avoidable death, the Governor’s commitment to HCV elimination comes at a critical time in New York.”

Background: Hepatitis C kills more people nationwide than any other infectious disease, including the combined deaths of tuberculosis, HIV, and 58 other infectious diseases. 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.


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Contact: Paulette Soltani, 775-340-2359,


In response to an Associated Press piece on Monday, February 12, 2018 where the Cuomo administration made claims that their affordable housing plan is ‘second to none’, the Albany Can End Homelessness in NYS Campaign released the following statement from spokesperson Paulette Soltani of VOCAL-NY:

“Governor Cuomo’s office said his efforts to address the state’s homeless problem are the most ambition ever, including an affordable housing plan that has committed funding for 2,500 units, and remains on track to create 6,000 units over five years. Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, said Cuomo’s record of delivering for homeless New Yorkers is “second to none – we’ll leave the grandstanding and empty promises to the advocates.” – Associated Press

“In 2016, Governor Cuomo committed to building an initial 2,500 units of supportive housing. Today, not a single homeless person has occupied those units. It’s unclear if any housing has even been completed. And while his administration lauds his commitment to build 6,000 units over five years, a bi-partisan, statewide campaign spent years proving the need to create 20,000 units of supportive housing. The fact is, Governor Cuomo led our state to the highest homelessness numbers ever on record, with a 41% increase between 2011-2015. More than 88,000 New Yorkers sleep in shelters every night.

“We urge the New York State press corp to dig deeper into the facts around Governor Cuomo’s homelessness commitments. Ever since his 2016 commitment of $10 billion dollars to tackle homelessness, his administration has misled our state by making multiple press announcements regarding the same allocation of money, and providing little to no details on how much money is being spent and when housing will be built.

“While Governor Cuomo accused us of “grandstanding,” the proposals laid out at Monday’s press conference are supported by members of both parties, by advocates across the state, and by homeless New Yorkers.

“The Homes Stability Support (HSS) plan (A8178) is a statewide rental supplement for low-income families and individuals who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. The Governor’s support for this proposal is ever more urgent, as New York City alone stands to lose 15,000 rental vouchers in the federal budget.

“In addition, Governor Cuomo’s own Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic Blueprint recommends expanding access to the HIV Enhanced Shelter Allowance (ESA) and 30% rent cap affordable housing protection statewide for approximately 3,700 HIV-positive people in upstate New York and Long Island who are homeless or unstably housed. Governor Cuomo’s proposal in the Executive Budget and 30-day amendments falls short because it is not a mandate and allows local social service districts the option of not expanding the same life-saving housing support employed by NYC. Failing to make these additional fixes to the budget language will perpetuate inequity in housing access for people with HIV in upstate NY and Long Island who have been ignored and neglected for too long while their health deteriorates and people die.

“HSS and the HIV Enhanced Shelter Allowance are immediate solutions that would cost the state less than $50 million this year. Given Governor Cuomo’s “historic” $10 billion commitment to confronting homelessness, we implore him to explain why HSS has not been included in this year’s budget, and why HIV-positive New Yorkers living upstate or in Long Island, deserve less than those living in NYC.”

Below are reactions from additional members of the Albany Can End Homelessness in NYS campaign:

“I came to Albany because I need a home, and because I know that over 88,000 other New Yorkers do as well. I did not come to grandstand,” said Georgia Morgan, VOCAL-NY member and homeless New Yorker. “I know that politicians don’t like to protested, but I didn’t expect him to blame the victims of a homeless crisis he created.”

“The administration’s response to record homelessness in our state goes past a refusal to acknowledge the crisis our state is in, it silenced the voices of people fighting for the most basic of human needs: a home,” said Emily McNeil, Executive Director of Labor and Religion Coalition. “These remarks from the Cuomo administration lack compassion and decency.”

“The spokesman for the Governor is right on the money, Cuomo’s track record of delivering for homeless is second to none.  No other Governor in modern history has allowed a crisis of this magnitude to grow exponentially on his watch.  The Governor has allowed more people, including thousands of children, to become homeless, and he continues to allow the problem to grow.   His record is second to none, but his spokesman really shouldn’t be highlighting it,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Chair of the Committee on Social Services.


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