More than 600 HIV/ AIDS activists marched over the Brooklyn Bridge last Wednesday to rally at City Hall urging presidential candidates and city councilmembers alike to work to end the epidemic disease.
“Today we gather to urge presidential hopefuls Senators John McCain and Barack Obama to commit to a greater national plan to end AIDS,” said Larry Bryant, national spokesman for Stand Against AIDS. “We need a national AIDS strategy with prevention and treatment aimed toward ending AIDS.”
Members of Housing Works, an AIDS advocacy group primarily focused on providing housing for those with the disease, joined other affiliated groups in Stand Against AIDS, a project of the Washington, DC-based campaign to end AIDS. As a culmination of this campaign, AIDS advocates from around the country have planned a march from Jackson to Oxford, Miss., the site of the first presidential debate, to demand a national AIDS plan from the next president. The Brooklyn Bridge march was one of the stops on this campaign.
Health professionals, Housing Works members, and a large number of individuals with AIDS participated in the march which sought to raise awareness about their national AIDS plan and local legislation that would provide housing for people infected with AIDS who are not showing symptoms of the virus.
The national strategy would involve setting prevention and treatment goals, especially among communities of color, and increase funding for these initiatives. The local strategy that Housing Works has coordinated, has been encouraging city council to increase funding for HIV/ AIDS programs, restore $6 million in HIV/AIDS budget cuts and pass its preventive housing bill, HASA for All.
“It’s time for us to tell Speaker [Christine] Quinn and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg to stop the cuts,” Kristen Goodwin, of Housing Works, said. “If they can bail out the financial sector, then they can help people with AIDS.”
HIV/AIDS rates are increasing in New York City, as the infection rate is three times the national average. As of 2006, Brooklyn has 24,482 people living with HIV/AIDS. In 2006, 564 people died from AIDS and 995 people were diagnosed with HIV and/ or AIDS in Brooklyn. According to Housing Works, 5,509 individuals who have been diagnosed with HIV and 1,836 who are undiagnosed in New York City would benefit from the passage of HASA for All.
Housing Works’ efforts to pass HASA for All have stalled somewhat, with the bill currently sitting in the City Council’s General Welfare Committee and Quinn vocally opposed to the legislation. Instead, Housing Works officials have said they will put together a demonstration pilot project that will compare data on asymptomatic AIDS individuals living in shelters with those living in private housing. AIDS Individuals who are asymptomatic are not currently receiving rental assistance for housing and must depend on Harlem United, CAMBA, or the AIDS Center Queens Service to find them housing.
“The city can just pass HASA for All,” said Shirlene Cooper, executive director of the New York City AIDS Housing Network. “It’s cheaper to pay for people to go into permanent housing rather than stay in the shelter system.”
As Housing Works members work to lobby elected officials on the bill, intake counselors and health professionals continue to grapple with the AIDS epidemic. Marangely Sanchez, an intake and outreach counselor at Housing Work’s Women's Health Center at 57 Willoughby Street, has found it difficult to refer to clients to services with the city’s budget cuts and limited housing programs.
“Landlords see that they have HASA and they won’t want to rent them an apartment because HASA takes too long, so they take Section 8 or someone who is working instead and our clients stay in the shelter system,” said Sanchez.