Legislators and community activists are calling for a $50 million public health investment, safe injection sites, decriminalized syringes and safe housing for HIV-positive New Yorkers.
The End AIDS 2020 Community Coalition, made up of 90 different organizations across the state, including Vocal NY and Housing Works, is calling for continued state investments into public health and anti-poverty measures to eradicate the AIDS epidemic in New York. The goal is to bring the rate of newly infected HIV-positive New Yorkers to less than 750 annually.
A recent rally in Albany began with words from state lawmakers and supporters and continued into the day with legislative visits to garner support for the goals of the coalition. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, spoke in support of legalizing supervised injection sites, where drug addicted New Yorkers can access clean needles, medical care, and case support services.
“When we provide this connection to services, people will have a path to treatment,” she said. “We’ve learned that it’s not a criminal issue, it’s a disease, and we have to be bold in our approach to fight it.”
In an effort to further combat AIDS and the growing Hepatitis C epidemic, Senator Gustavo Rivera, D-Fordham Heights, has introduced a bill (S.1082) to decriminalize possession and sale of syringes, expanding access to clean needles. The bill will also be proposed by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, D-Manhattan, in the coming weeks.
“If we are serious about ending the epidemic, we must strengthen the law for access to clean syringes,” Gottfried said.
Charles King, president and CEO of the nonprofit Housing Works, which attempts to tackle AIDS and homelessness, also spoke at the rally. King is a prominent figure in the fight to provide assistance to the homeless, HIV-positive, and LGBT populations of New York.
“Today is a great day to end the AIDS epidemic,” King said. “We are at the tipping point, so that means not coasting or undermining our progress through budget cuts but rather staying vigilant and renewing that commitment at the onset of this new legislative session and budget cycle.”
A main component of the plan to end AIDS by 2020 includes expanding access to housing for infected New Yorkers all across the state. HIV-positive residents of New York City already have access to such a program, and the proposed bill (A.00315/S.3449) would expand benefits and services, including housing, to every HIV-positive person in the state.
The bill’s sponsors, Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, D-Forest Hills, spoke of the provisions as a “single point of access” for medical services, housing, and mental health care, according to Hoylman.
For advocates such as Terrell Jones from Vocal NY, the path to eradicating AIDS in New York relies heavily on providing health care, housing services, and guidance. “Dead people don’t recover,” he said. “We are human beings; we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”