WNYC: Drug Screening for Rental Assistance: Bad Idea, Say Protestors

Drug Screening for Rental Assistance: Bad Idea, Say Protesters

Friday, February 17, 2012

By Cindy Rodriguez / Jessie Wright-Mendoza

Dozens marched to the offices of the city’s Human Resources Administration in Lower Manhattan Friday to protest a policy they say will lead to more homelessness among poor New Yorkers living with HIV or Aids.

Chief among their complaints is a rule implemented last fall requiring clients of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to be drug screened and comply with treatment if needed or risk losing housing assistance.

“We should solve one problem before we work on another,” said protester Bobby Tolbert, who believes getting people housing should be the city’s first priority. “We have to get people stable before they can address all their issues that they have in their lives.”

The Human Resources Administration, which runs HASA, said the drug screening process involves a series of questions and no urine or blood test. According to the agency, 939 clients have been referred for treatment, about half have complied and seven have been denied rental assistance above the $480 that state rules require.

Those who do not comply with drug treatment will be referred to so-called supportive housing, which provides substance abuse programs and other services, HRA said.

But advocates question whether there’s enough supportive housing to go around.

In a November 30, 2011, op-ed article for the Huffington Post, HRA commissioner Robert Doar said HASA is shifting its focus from crisis management — when HIV/AIDS was largely untreatable — to combating addiction and finding individuals employment

The group VOCAL New York has been advocating on behalf of HASA clients and argues that what destabilizes people the most is not drugs but the inability to afford their housing. Beyond ending drug screening, the group is calling for legislation that would cap a HASA client’s rent at 30 percent of their income.

“I don’t have a drug problem. I have basically an affordable housing problem and a poverty problem, so I feel that it’s more like an invasion of privacy,” said Wanda Hernandez, who was recently drug screened.

Hernandez said the risk is that if you push someone to do something they don’t want to do, you may also be pushing them into homelessness.

Drug Policy, HIV/AIDS, Media Coverage

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