Some of my earliest memories of New York AIDS activism include the sounds of the names of people who have died echoing between the buildings of the downtown night as I walked to city hall park on World AIDS Day in the late 1990's.
|Housing Works at World AIDS Day City Hall Park 1999|
These names and stories, the silent screams of their activism, these memories still linger as I walk through City Hall Park for World AIDS Day.
They were with me today as I walked to City Hall Park for a pre World AIDS Day banner drop at the South End of the Park. Walking there, I strolled past a street sign for "People with AIDS Plaza", inspired by Housing Works'24 reading of the names of people who have died of HIV/AIDS down there. I passed works by Jenny Holzer installed there.
All was quiet, yet, AIDS activists started arriving, milling about. And two gentlemen walked over to two flag poles of the park and started climbing up.
Charles King, the iconic leader of Housing Works, stood watching, smiling, the personification of joy and justice, still at it after all these years, from the "Stop the Church" action with ACT UP to thousands of arrests over the years of a career in activism stretching from the anti-war movement through a quarter century of full time AIDS activism.
|Charles King now and then, and still smiling. Middle photo Housing Works.|
We watched as two activists from Housing Works unfurled a thirty-five foot banner that read: "Housing is Healthcare: House People Living with HIV/ AIDS." The message highlights the need for resources and policy interventions that prioritize housing as a key intervention in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Stable housing has been shown to be the strongest structural intervention available to help people living with HIV/AIDS better adhere to their care and treatments, and lower the risk of exposing others to the disease. Put simply, the AIDS pandemic cannot be ended without addressing homelessness and housing instability among people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions.
Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, New York City's homeless population has reached its all time high, with the number people sleeping in the streets and shelters doubling over the last decade. Bloomberg has reduced the assistance people living with AIDS receive to pay broker's fees to secure housing, as well as repeatedly blocking NYS Legislator's efforts attempts to cap the rents of people living with HIV/AIDS at 30% of their legal income. Most recently, Bloomberg's proposed city budget plan will change the eligibility requirements under the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) - including reduced levels of financial assistance and mandatory work requirements - may also feature cuts to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and their HIV bureau.
The two activists hanging the banner at city hall were arrested. Their civil disobedience comes two days before World AIDS Day, a global day of remembrance for people lost to the disease.
The banner hang was organized by Housing Works, the nation's most militant AIDS services organization, always willing to bridge the gap between direct action and direct services.