Friday, February 27, 2015

HASA for All and the Struggle for Queer Youth

The corner of Christopher and Weehawken Streets. 

During my dozen years as a social worker in AIDS services in New York and San Francisco, we used to hear stories about homeless youth who put themselves at risk so they could quality for benefits, particularly housing. Many reported there was no other way to get housing.  A tragic narrative yet, it is one that repeated today, all these years later.  Several speakers echoed the point yesterday at City Hall.  We were there to support Council Member CoreyJohnson's introduction of proposed city legislation to change HASA's medical eligibility to include asymptomatic HIV.  Known as "HASA for All" this proposed legislation would expand HASA benefits to all low-income, HIV+ New York City residents. Everyone was there to demonstrate strong community support for this proposed expansion and stand against homelessness!

Get youth out of the streets into housing. 

Carl Siciliano of the Ali Forney Center, noted that he was going to be quick because the youth with him spent too much time outside in the cold anyways.  He specifically referred to the new study by the Urban Institute on survival sex among homeless LGBTQ youth.

Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex

Meredith DankJennifer YahnerKuniko MaddenIsela BanuelosLilly Yu, Andrea Ritchie, Mitchyll Mora, Brendan Conner
Read complete document: PDF 
Document date: February 25, 2015
Released online: February 25, 2015
Based on interviews with 283 youth in New York City, this is the first study to focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth; young men who have sex with men (YMSM); and young women who have sex with women (YWSW) who get involved in the commercial sex market in order to meet basic survival needs, such as food or shelter. The report documents these youth’s experiences and characteristics to gain a better understanding of why they engage in survival sex, describes how the support networks and systems in their lives have both helped them and let them down, and makes recommendations for better meeting the needs of this vulnerable population.

The study highlights the struggle of queer youth, often running away from abusive homes, hoping to find something better here, only to encounter more closed doors, limited services, and huge gaps in what is available for them.  Many are told where to find the best couches to sleep on or where to sleep on the trains when they go looking for services.  The number of beds available for homeless youth in New York rarely matches the needs.

And so people are organizing. At a zap of the human rights campaign fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria last month, a few of us carried signs noting, “HRC 1% dines at the Waldorf while lgbt youth sleep in the streets.”  Today, advocates are pushing for increased services for queer youth. 

Photo  by Jamie Leo

On hand at the HRC zap was Andrew Velez, of New Alternatives, a programs run to provide services for homeless LGBT youth. Kate Barnhart, the program’s director, spoke about homeless queer youth and survival sex and how her programs addresses the gaps in services on Huffington Live.

Gina Quattrochi and several other speakers talked about the risks youth are forced to handle as they cope on the streets, themselves becoming HIV positive, and still unable to quality for HASA.  The gaps in housing services are startling.

Several speakers talked about being denied HASA, even though they were HIV positive. 

We have to “get out of 1983, get out of 1985, get out of 1989, and join us in 2014,” noted Housing Works Senior VP Andrew Coamey at City Hall last fall.  

Andrew Coamey

As Coamey explained at the rally:
“My job [at DAS in 1989] was to help people stay housed. People who came were losing their apartments because they had exhausted every financial resource they had to pay their rent. What we found was, I had to turn probably 2 of every 3 of the [HIV-positive] people who came to me for assistance away because they did not have an AIDS diagnosis. So people who could have stayed in their homes and avoided homelessness wound up on the streets—and I can tell you, back then, inevitably died. My clients died before I could house them. I said, that ain’t right, and so I found this wonderful organization Housing Works, where I’ve spent most of my adult life. Housing Works was founded on the premise that anyone, regardless of their situation in life, regardless if they use drugs, regardless if they have mental illness, regardless if they’re transgender, regardless of any of those things, deserves a decent, safe, affordable place to live, where they can not only live, they can thrive.
“In the 1990s I was in charge of our intake department….and the same nonsense happened over and over and over again. People would come in, they were sleeping on the trains, the subways….And their M11Qs [the required form doctors needed to complete for patients who need public assistance] would say ‘HIV-positive, asymptomatic.’ And I would say, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you. You gotta go back to the shelter, I can give you a token and you can sleep on the subway, and I can give you half of my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich….But come back tomorrow and let’s see what we can do.’
Something is wrong with this that we are living in 1989 when it’s 2014. So what we need is a concerted effort to realize that what is driving this epidemic is…access to the basic food, nutrition, and shelter. People with HIVneed to [be able to] engage with those services that are available to them. So that’s what we’re doing here today. We’re gathered here today to say, ‘Get out of 1983, get out of 1985, get out of 1989, and join us in 2014.’ We gotta make sure that the door isn’t just open to this small group of people that have that piece of paper that says ‘I have an AIDS diagnosis,’ or ‘I’mHIV-symptomatic.’ We need to open that door for every single one of our brothers and sisters living with HIV in New York.
Sadly, far too many still argue that AIDS is over, now that it mostly effects the poor, people of color. Yet, ACT UP reminds us, AIDS is not history.  

HIV is spread by inequality, noted Council Member Corey Johnson, who introduced the HASA for all bill.  

We have to move beyond the stigmas and follow the science.  Housing is healthcare.  Its the best way to end AIDS now.  But people have to be able to get the housing.  HASA for All moves the process.

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