September 28, 2007
HASA FOR ALL TAKES CITY HALL
All for HASA!
HASA for all!
Until about 12:45 p.m. last Tuesday, most of the folks who work at City Hall had never heard of the HASA for All Act. But after 1 p.m., when some 700 passionate people from dozens of different AIDS organizations had gathered on its steps chanting "Housing is health care! Housing is a right!", City Hall got the message loud and clear: City officials must pass the HASA for All Act, which would extend NYC HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) benefits and services including housing to HIV positive asymptomatic people. Currently, you must have a CD4 count under 200 or two AIDS-defining illnesses to receive full HASA assistance.
"We cannot accept that people with HIV are unable to access the services they need," Councilmember Mathieu Eugene said in his speech. "This is not just good public policy but the opportunity to do the right thing." Eugene was joined at the rally by Councilmember Annabel Palma who introduced the legislation in September. Councilmembers Leticia James and Charles Barron were also on hand to show their support.
Housing is perhaps the most critical aspect of extending HASA benefits to people living with HIV because research proves that stable housing reduces HIV transmission. "There's some people in the building behind us who don't know the importance of this legislation. They don't know the law says you have to be really sick to get housing. But HASA should be for all the people," Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), told the crowd.
Unfortunately, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn remains blindly opposed to the HASA for All Act. In a statement released Tuesday, she said, "I recognize the need to provide the best care possible to HIV-positive homeless New Yorkers. However, I do not believe the HASA for All initiative is the best way to support HIV-positive homeless individuals or prevent the spread of this disease. Further, I am concerned this bill could set a wide-ranging precedent that would require additional costly benefits, diverting limited resources to an unnecessary mandate instead of allowing us to target funds where they are most needed."
Quinn's response angered Housing Works President and CEO Charles King, who along with representatives from New York City AIDS Coalition, Housing Works and GMHC has met several times with Quinn to familiarize her with the hard science backing up HASA for All Act.
"I can't tell you how angry I am when I hear the speaker say she can't house people with HIV because then they would have to house people with cancer and diabetes," King told the crowd, who responded by chanting "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
"King continued, "I can't tell you how angry I am when the speaker of the house says she's not sure HIV is a prevention tool."
Quinn is not the only target for the HASA for All coalition as the fight moves forward this fall. While the mayor has so far remained silent on the issue, people who attended Rebirth of Advocacy 2 conference on HIV/AIDS advocacy in New York last month said Dr. Monica Sweeney, the Health Department's Assistant Commissioner for HIV Prevention, spoke against HASA for All as an example of HIV exceptionalism.
A wealth of support
Lending their voice to the rally, which was covered by NY1, POZ.com and Gay City News, were those who understood the benefits of housing as health care and prevention first-hand. "I had to be sick in the hospital before I could get HASA benefits," said Michael McGowan, a HASA client. McGowan is making a video of the rally to send to Bloomberg. "Hopefully he'll see it and realize there needs to be some kind of change."
Eugene and Cooper address the crowd
"It's almost like you have to be dying to receive HASA services," said Diane Williams, a Housing Works employee who is HIV-positive and also a HASA client. "Your T-cell count can drop at any time, especially when you're homeless."
Such stories are one reason the city's HIV/AIDS groups have united behind the HASA for All legislation, with more than 51 organizations—including Project Hospitality, East New York Brownsville HIV Care Network, and Bronx AIDS Services—in the mix. They all signed on to a life-size letters of support that were delivered to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bloomberg after the rally. HIV Prevention Planning Group and the HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council of New York, both mayoral advisory bodies, have also voiced their support for HASA for All.
That pleases Housing Works Director of New York City Public Policy terri smith-caronia, who said the housing situation for poor people with HIV grows worse every day. "This is touching people in all corners of New York," she said. "As housing stock shrinks more HIV-positive people are becoming homeless. It's a problem that's spiraling out of control very quickly." The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has found in a recent study that the number one killer of women and number two killer of men struggling to survive in the Department of Homeless Services shelter system is AIDS.
"If we don't find money to serve less than 10,000 people now, we'll need to find money to serve 100,000 people later," King said. It is expected that between 7,000 to 8,000 people low-income asymptomatic people would be eligible for the expanded HASA."If you can provide subsidies for developers, you can support this," Councilmember James said. "There's this notion in the city that everyone's doing well. Well, everyone's not doing well."
HASA For All benefits are long overdue, said NYCAHN co-director Shirlene Cooper. "I'm horrified when people walk in, and I have to tell them that there are no benefits available. We can't continue to leave HIV-positive asymptomatic people on their own."
For more information on the HASA for All campaign, contact terri smith-caronia at firstname.lastname@example.org.