FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 17, 2012
Contact: Jaron Benjamin, (718) 864-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York – More than one hundred people living with HIV/AIDS and their allies marched to the headquarters of the Human Resources Administration (HRA) today to protest new policies that will increase homelessness among clients of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), a division of HRA.
The march followed a contentious City Council General Welfare Committee hearing on February 8th and growing public outcry over the new policies, which could deny housing assistance to homeless people with HIV/AIDS suspected of having a substance abuse problem and extend shelter stays by cutting payments to real estate brokers.
“Humiliating HASA clients and keeping us in poverty shouldn’t be part of
Commissioner Doar’s job description,” said James Dean, a VOCAL-NY Board member and HASA client from Brooklyn. “He has no idea what it’s like to live with AIDS and try to survive on less than $12 a day.”
Activists tried to enter HRA’s downtown headquarters to deliver a letter from HASA clients and called on Commissioner Doar to take a drug test in order to draw attention to the agency’s new substance abuse screening policy. In a Huffington Post op-ed for World AIDS Day last December, Commissioner Doar pledged to get “tough” on drug use among HASA clients by denying housing assistance to those who refuse the mandated drug treatment programs.
“Commissioner Doar keeps trying to change the subject when it comes to explaining the high rates of homelessness among HASA clients,” said Wanda Hernandez, VOCAL-NY’s Board chair and a HASA client from the Bronx. “The fact is that I have a poverty problem, not a substance abuse problem, and I’m in arrears because HASA requires me to pay over 70% of my disability income towards rent. I want to see Commissioner Doar get ‘tough’ on homelessness, not people living with AIDS.”
Research shows that stable housing has a bigger impact than substance use when it comes to improving the health of people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the primary driver of arrears and unstable housing among HASA clients is the lack of affordable housing in the rental assistance program, not substance use issues.
The letter to Commissioner Doar demanded an end to the new drug screening policy, restoration of $10 million in HIV/AIDS housing and nutrition programs that Mayor Bloomberg wants to cut in next year’s budget, and a 30% rent cap affordable housing protection that would prevent homelessness for more than 10,000 HASA clients with a severe rent share burden and enable an additional 1,000 clients to move out of the shelter system.
The state legislature is considering an affordable housing bill that would ensure HASA clients who receive rental assistance pay no more than 30% of their disability income towards rent, which would align HASA’s policy with other low-income housing programs in the state. It passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support in 2010 before Mayor Bloomberg forced former Governor David Paterson to issue a veto.
VOCAL-NY is a grassroots membership organization building power among low-income New Yorkers affected by HIV/AIDS, mass incarceration and the war on drugs in order to create healthy and just communities.