VOCAL-NY works on issue advocacy campaigns that are chosen and led by grassroots community leaders focused on making concrete improvements in their lives. VOCAL-NY also works with research partners to monitor and report on key budget, legislative and policy issues affecting our communities. View our issues page for fact sheets and reports on our policy advocacy. Here are some of the campaigns we’re currently working on.
Thousands of low-income people living with HIV/AIDS are homeless or are on the brink of losing their homes abecause New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) rental assistance program denies them affordable housing. Permanently disabled tenants in the program are forced to pay upwards of 70 percent or more of their disability income towards rent each month. This deeply flawed policy forces tenants to choose between visiting the doctor, buying groceries, keeping the phone turned on or paying rent. Many are unable to save enough each month for rent, fall into arrears and then end up homeless in an emergency shelter system. VOCAL-NY members are working to pass an affordable housing protection so that permanently disabled HASA clients pay no more than 30 percent of their income towards their rent, the same standard that already exists in every other comparable low-income housing program in New York.
At least 200,000 New Yorkers have chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection, which can lead to severe liver disease and now accounts for more deaths each year than HIV/AIDS. Most people with chronic HCV can be cured with treatment that has become newly available, although many do not know their status and too few of those who do are connected to care. HCV is primarily spread by unsafe injection practices among people who use drugs. VOCAL-NY is advocating for better access to care and treatment in substance use treatment programs and other high prevalence settings, along with better access to sterile syringes and safer injection equipment to prevent the spread of HCV.
AIDS is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide, including African American women in the United States between the ages of 25 – 34. Millions of people living with HIV/AIDS overseas are denied lifesaving drugs because wealthy countries are stepping back their commitment to ensure all those who need treatment can access it, while thousands of people in the US are on waiting lists for treatment through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) due to funding shortfalls. A Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), also known as the “Robin Hood Tax,” would be a tiny tax on financial transaction that would raise billions annually to domestic and international healthcare programs, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM). A FTT would also discourage some of the most harmful kinds of financial speculation that destabilized economies around the world. VOCAL-NY is helping lead the US-based Robin Hood Tax campaign.
New York has led the nation in promoting syringe access programs as a public health intervention to reduce HIV and viral hepatitis transmission. However, police harassment and arrests for legal syringe possession have discouraged participation in these public health programs. Leaders in the VOCAL-NY Users Union won a campaign in 2010 to fix the state Penal Code and clarify that it’s legal to possess new and used syringes obtained through public health programs. Fatal overdose is a leading cause of accidental death in New York even though it can be prevented if there is a timely response. VOCAL-NY also helped lead a campaign that won a new “911 Good Samaritan” law to prevent fatal overdose by encouraging people to call 911. Our members are now working to ensure effective implementation of both new laws.
The number one arrest in NYC is possession of small amounts of marijuana, even though it was decriminalized in the 1970s,. Under Mayor Bloomberg, however, marijuana arrests have skyrocketed due to a loophole in state law and the increase in stop and frisk. Over 50,000 arrests were made in 2011, mostly targeting young Black and Latino men despite higher rates of marijuana use among white youth, at a cost of $75 million to taxpayers. These arrests needlessly criminalize young people – especially young people of color – and severely harms the relationship between law enforcement and the community. VOCAL-NY is working with Drug Policy Alliance and others to pass state legislation that would close a loophole in state law that allows tens of thousands of arrests for marijuana possession each year, and we are a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition working to reform stop and frisk and biased policing practices.
Whether someone has stable housing and a job when they come home from prison or jail are the most important factors in successful reentry. But a number of housing policies create barriers to housing for people who are formerly incarcerated, including discrimination by public housing authorities and the lack of supportive housing. Moreover, persistent employment discrimination and a lack of good jobs in communities of color most impacted by incarceration make work is hard to find. VOCAL-NY is working to expand a range of housing and employment opportunities for people who are formerly incarcerated.
Moreover, about 40,000 New Yorkers are working in their community and caring for their families but are denied the right to vote because they are on parole. Voter disenfranchisement laws have their roots in New York’s own Jim Crow past, and 80% of those denied the right to vote because of their parole status in our state are African American or Latino. VOCAL-NY leaders are also working to restore the right to vote for New Yorkers on parole.
New York City and State face major revenue shortfalls in recent years that could unravel the fragile safety net serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. Since 2009, Mayor Bloomberg has tried to slash funding from supportive housing programs serving low-income people living with HIV/AIDS every year. VOCAL-NY is working to continue preserving the safety net for vulnerable New Yorkers, especially homeless and low-income people living with HIV/AIDS. We have worked with allies on City Council to restore most, though not all, of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts for HIV/AIDS programs.
Wall Street Accountability & Progressive Revenue: Even though the recession was caused by poor regulation and unchecked greed by Wall Street banks, along with growing income inequality, low-income and middle class New Yorkers are being saddle with the consequences. Through National People’s Action (NPA), New Deal for New York and other coalitions, we are working to create an economy that works for everyone by advocating for good jobs and ensuring all New Yorkers have their basic needs met.
Low-Income Housing and Anti-Displacement: While the housing boom in New York City failed to address persistently high rates of homelessness, it did lead to explosive growth in the number of luxury condos. Since the housing bubble burst, many of those luxury condos now sit vacant even though our homeless shelter population is at record highs. We are on the steering committee for Right to the City (RTTC) and active in the “Condo Conversion” campaign to convert vacant condos into housing for low-income New Yorkers.