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Tribute to Longtime Advocate Regina Quattrochi by Charles King

Posted by Mikola De Roo , December 14, 2016

Tribute to Longtime Advocate Regina Quattrochi by Charles King

From L to R: Housing Works CEO Charles King, Bailey House CEO Regina Quattrochi, and NY State Senator Tom Duane, at a Nov. 2010 New York City protest supporting the 30 percent rent cap initiative.

Guest post by Charles King, President and CEO of Housing Works

I first met Regina Quattrochi in 1990. The Housing Committee of ACT UP had decided to prove that homeless people with AIDS 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” (ARC), which had developed Bailey House, the first congregate supportive housing for people with AIDS in New York. Over the course of that year, Gina went from being the Board chair of ARC 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 HIV and AIDS—especially young people. Like those of us who started Housing Works, she was totally committed to proving that housing is an essential HIV 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 HIV that in the early 1990s set basic standards for all HIV housing programs in the state. It was out of that passion that she also became one of the founders of the National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC). She saw NAHC as a national platform for the promotion of housing as an essential HIV 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 AIDS Housing Coalition. When he died, in 2004, the NAHC 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 AIDS, the only federal program dedicated to housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS—and develop a vision for achieving stable housing for all people living with HIV 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 HIV 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 HIV 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 HIV 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 HIV. 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 HIV, 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.

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