Feb. 8, 2012 | Cristian Salazar, AP
(Excerpt – read the full story here)
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Council members grilled policymakers at a packed hearing Wednesday over recent changes to public assistance policies that they worry could lead to increased homelessness and risky behavior among vulnerable New Yorkers sick with HIV and AIDS.
Among the most contentious changes is a requirement that clients of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration — set up to help vulnerable New Yorkers suffering from the virus — be screened for substance abuse and accept treatment or lose eligibility for some housing services.
The city has said that no one would be denied shelter because of the policy, but that did not assuage the fears of some lawmakers.Advocates and researchers said they were concerned that housing was being used as leverage by the city to increase compliance with substance abuse treatment.
“They are making drug treatment the highest priority — above adherence to HIV antiviral medications, above survival,” said Ginny Shubert, a public policy researcher and consultant. “It makes no sense. It is directly at odds with the way that other communities and that other public health approaches are going with.”
New York City continues to be the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., with more than 100,000 people in the city having the virus or full-blown disease.
HASA serves about 32,000 people, including 4,500 family members. Clients are assigned case managers, and services can include home care, counseling and cash assistance.
The city’s substance abuse policy first got attention in November, when the commissioner of the agency that oversees HASA wrote a World AIDS Day column for The Huffington Post trumpeting it.
In that piece, published on Nov. 30, 2011, Human Resources Commissioner Robert Doar said HASA clients who declined to participate in substance abuse treatment could choose between housing with on-site substance abuse counselors or the loss of eligibility for assistance.
“This will stay in effect until proof of substance abuse treatment is established. Tough? Maybe. But New York City is serious when it comes to combating substance abuse,” he wrote.
HIV positive New Yorkers disagreed with the new substance abuse policy.
“I think it’s a violation of the individual,” said Wanda Hernandez, 49, who is HIV positive and board chair of the HIV advocacy group VOCAL-NY. “I don’t think it should be a mandatory thing to corner somebody into this.”