One banner activists carried onto Third Avenue focused on homelessness and income inequality. | COURTESY: VOCAL-NY
A March 13 protest by AIDS and housing advocates outside the Midtown office of Governor Andrew Cuomo ended in 10 arrests, as demonstrators unfurled two banners across Third Avenue, blocking traffic.
The demonstrators focused on what they say are inadequate efforts by both the state and city to curb a spiraling rate of homelessness as well as Cuomo’s failure to follow through on the funding of supportive housing, some of that housing assistance targeting HIV-positive New Yorkers.
According to the protesters — whose platform has the backing of service and advocacy groups including VOCAL-NY, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP-NY, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, the New York State Coalition for Homeless Youth, the New York State Council of Churches, and FIERCE! — New York’s homeless population grew by 41 percent in Cuomo’s first four years in office and now stands at 88,000.
Blockade of Third Avenue leads to 10 arrests
“If our governor thinks he can be president, then he needs to start by tackling our state’s worst issues first: homelessness and glaring income inequality,” said Corey Bates, a leader at VOCAL-NY. “Right now, Governor Cuomo’s inaction to confront these crises shows the governor’s true priorities and lack of commitment to address the needs of poor New Yorkers.”
Eric Sawyer, vice president of public affairs at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, addresses the protesters. | COURTESY: VOCAL-NY
Since last year, the advocates have faulted the governor for failing to deliver completely on a pledge to fund 20,000 units of supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers who have other other social service needs as well. At a press conference last June, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Assembly Committee on Social Services, charged that only a fraction of the 20,000-unit goal was funded.
The protesters were also pushing for two other Hevesi initiatives, one, Home Stability Support [HSS], a $450 million rent subsidy initiative to help households on public assistance that are at risk for eviction. The assemblymember, who was not part of this week’s protest, has put the number of homeless New Yorkers at 60,000, but said that as many as “80,000 households are on the brink of homelessness” across the state.
The HSS program will save the state money in the long run, Hevesi has said, noting that the Coalition for the Homeless estimates that New York City spends more than $38,000 a year to house a family of three when they lose their home.
The protesters this week also endorsed legislation sponsored by Hevesi and State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay West Side Democrat, to provide rental assistance to low-income New Yorkers upstate, initially through a $20 million pilot program.
Providing such assistance to any eligible HIV-positive person in New York City, regardless of whether or not they have an AIDS diagnosis — which had long been an eligibility prerequisite — was debated for years here, until the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio were both brought on board.
Stable housing is seen as important for keeping positive people on their treatment regimens and their viral loads suppressed. With an undetectable viral load, an HIV-positive person does not pose an infection risk for sex partners, and achieving widespread viral suppression is critical to meeting the state and city’s joint goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2020.
The Hevesi-Hoylman bill would expand rental assistance for HIV-positive people statewide as has already happened in the city.
The final demand of those protesting this week is for an increase in the amount the state spends on providing legal assistance to those facing eviction or having trouble renting affordable housing.
Protesters aimed particular fire at Governor Andrew Cuomo. | COURTESY: VOCAL-NY
At the conclusion of the demonstration, 10 protesters carried two banners onto Third Avenue: one reading, “End Record Homelessness and Income Inequality”; the other, “Cuomo: The Nation is Watching.”
Police, who had been standing by throughout the protest, acted quickly to remove the 10 from blocking the avenue.