For a while there in the late 1990's in New York, there was a cohort of new organizers running AIDS Services and Harm Reduction Organizations - Jennifer Flynn Walker, Daliah Heller, Jeanne Hussein Bergman Eustacia Smithmany others. There were elders such as the wild man Keith Cylar and Eric Sawyer and Charles King. And then there was Gina Quattrochi who was behind the effort to recognize HIV as a Housing Issue. We met at meetings. And she seemed more on top of the dynamic, the research, the policy, the activism than any of us. She mentored us and supported the movements in which we worked. She fought for services. And she changed laws. She was always on the right side of history. When Keith got sick and passed out on the elevator at housing conference, it was Gina Quattrochi who was there to help catch him and get him back to his room. She did that for a lot of us. For a while there in 1998, I worked at Bailey House. And left in a hurry. Gina Quattrochi and I remained friends for years after that. I saw her at Occupy Wall Street. And I saw her at meetings and rallies for year and years and years after that. She never let a fight get in the way of a conversation about differences and ways to learn from each other. I tried to interview her and we could never arrange a time. I should have tried harder to arrange a time. But I have so many memories of her now. I will always remember her as she was here in February of 2015 at City Hall, speaking out for HASA for All. Speaking out for homeless youth, freezing in the cold, speaking out for those who had so much less, speaking out for history, for the right side of the story.RIP Gina Quattrochi!
Gina Quattrochi was my mentor. For whatever reason, she took the time to invest in my leadership. Even when I did things she disagreed with, she would send me cards and take the time to talk to me about potential pitfalls. For a few painful months, she didn't talk to me, but she then arranged to meet to talk it out. That willingness to struggle thru vs just writing someone off is something I so deeply admire.
I'm grateful that she came to my wedding and that we had lunch a few months ago. I was supposed to visit her on Friday but then I didn't hear from her. I thought she was too busy, because she was always busy, even when she was sick. I had no idea she was so close to the end because, frankly, she seemed invincible to me. I remember her getting her martial art black belt in her 50's and I was in awe. I thought she'd be kicking and fighting long past me.
For a younger queer, she taught me that I could have kids and still be a bad ass. If her kids ever read this, I want them to know that she loved so fiercely that it made me want to have kids. I knew that her daughter Anna loved the Spice Girls (at one time) and acting and her son Gio was a poetic genius. She spoke of you constantly and with overwhelming love. She believed deeply in racial justice and she also could run an organization like a CEO of a corporation.
I'm grateful that in my last email to her, for some reason, I thanked her and apologized for being a petulant punk. I had no idea why, but I'm glad I did it. I regret not seeing her on Friday and I vow to always go see you when need me. I will try to be the person she wanted me to be and I will try to pay forward her investment in me into others. I truly love you Gina Quattrochi. Thank you.
Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
I first met Regina Quattrochi in 1990. The Housing Committee of UP had decided to prove that homeless people with who used drugs would benefit from supportive housing and committed to starting Housing Works. Four of us—Eric Sawyer, Ginny Shubert, Keith Cylar, and I—took on the task of seeing this effort through. We turned for advice and guidance to the then “AIDS Resource Center” (), which had developed Bailey House, the first congregate supportive housing for people with in New York. Over the course of that year, Gina went from being the Board chair of to being its executive director, the hat that she continued to wear until her passing yesterday. In both roles, she served as a mentor and a friend.
Gina’s prior work was as an employee-side labor lawyer. Fighting for the underdog was in her genes. She was most passionate about advocacy with and for homeless people living with and AIDS—especially young people. Like those of us who started Housing Works, she was totally committed to proving that housing is an essential intervention that ranks at least as highly as medical care, if not higher. Gina also believed deeply that every person deserved safe and appropriate housing, and she was a founding member of the coalition of providers, advocates, and people with that in the early 1990s set basic standards for all housing programs in the state. It was out of that passion that she also became one of the founders of the National Housing Coalition (). She saw as a national platform for the promotion of housing as an essential intervention. More fundamentally, she always argued that we needed to make the case that housing is a basic human right that needs to be respected everywhere.
Keith Cylar, my life partner and co-founder of Housing Works, was also one of the founders of the National Housing Coalition. When he died, in 2004, the Board invited me to take his seat. I remember attending my first meeting in St. Louis. We all went to dinner the night before, and the level of familiarity made clear to me that this was more than just a board. This was an extended family. The next day, during our meeting, I made a comment that we needed to look beyond HOPWA—Housing Opportunities for Persons with , the only federal program dedicated to housing needs of people living with /AIDS—and develop a vision for achieving stable housing for all people living with in the United States, a vision that would inevitably require peer-reviewed research. Gina loved the idea, promptly moved that we establish a visioning committee, and nominated me to be the committee chair.
That was the beginning of a series of eight housing research and policy summits, as well as a ton of published research that made the case for housing as an effective and efficient health care and prevention intervention. I accepted the role of visioning chair on the condition that Gina also serve on the committee, and we worked side by side to pull off the first four of these United States summits. Then it was Gina’s idea that we take the summit series international, leading to NAHC’s partnership with the Ontario Treatment Network to make the summit series North American.
Gina had always been a strong advocate for people with behavioral health issues. Several years ago, Gina had to take a medical leave of absence for a number of months. Her first day back, she called me up and asked me to lunch, which we scheduled for just a few days later. Over lunch, she shared with me that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She detailed for me her treatment experience during her leave, explaining how it had deepened her understanding of the experience of people with mental illness. Over and over she exclaimed that though she had the best insurance in the world and the best support team, it often felt like she had to fight the entire system to get what she needed.
Gina told me then that she was going to be out about her mental illness and asked for my support. She said she saw how effective those of us living with coming out publicly were in making our case. She said she wanted to do the same thing for mental illness. And she did. And when Gina was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014, she became a fierce advocate for others struggling with the same condition.
Gina was full of life, full of passion, and she loved her children and so many other people in her life so fully that we are left with an incredible void. I will deeply miss her. Also, I know she left one important piece of work undone. After she served on Governor Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic (EtE) Task Force, she convened an ad-hoc advisory group to develop recommendations for implementing the EtE Blueprint for women living with or at risk of . The group met several times, but never completed its recommendations after she began intensive treatment. I intend to make sure those recommendations are completed and approved.
With Gina’s passing, I can’t help but renew my own commitment to the fight against , the fight for housing as a basic human right, and the fight for health equity. She is another comrade fallen in the battle. And we who are left behind are compelled to take up that part of the fight that she carried so valiantly.