News & Press

A New HOPWA Swap

A New HOPWA Swap

CitiWide Harm Reduction clients could lose connection to care with HOPWA funding loss
photo credit: Robin Milim

In a devastating blow to homeless youth and some of the city’s most vulnerable people with HIV/AIDS, the New York City Department of Health is planning to redirect $2.475 million in Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) outreach funds to fund supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Outreach organizations were told in August that their contracts are set to expire in June 2009. Safe Horizon and the Ali Forney Center are each losing $600,000 a year to provide outreach and drop-in services for homeless youth. CitiWide Harm Reduction, Services for the Underserved, and the AIDS Service Center of Lower Manhattan are each losing $425,000 in contracts used to do outreach to drug users in city Single Room Occupancy apartments (SROs).

“This is an outrageous decision,” said Sean Barry, New York City AIDS Housing Network co-executive director. “There’s no one else doing this critical outreach. Yes, supporting housing is important, but ultimately we’re talking about a small pot of money that the city could find other places. The city is creating an artificial crisis.”

HOPWA funds were reallocated to support the operation of congregate residences for persons living with HIV/AIDS. The intent is to increase the availability of supportive housing targeted to homeless persons living with HIV/AIDS prompted the decision,” a spokesperson for the NYC DOH said.

Small but powerful

Though small, these HOPWA contracts to five city agencies are critical to reaching incredibly underserved populations. There are no other sources of funding for harm reduction outreach to SROs. In April 2008, SROs housed 940 people living with HIV/AIDS. SROs have no supportive services and residents are traditionally disconnected from care.

“These are folks who have a history of drug use and who it took many years to reach. If we aren’t going directly to them, they’re not going to get any services,” said CitiWide Harm Reduction Director of Outreach Edwin Santiago. Santiago said that CitiWide will have to lay off two case workers and two outreach workers who have reached 125 SRO residents and connected them to care. “It’s irresponsible what they’ve done. It’s like, ‘Sorry, you guys have done a great job, but June 1 funding’s done,” Santiago said.

“This is absolutely devastating,” said Sharen Duke, CEO of the AIDS Service Center of NYC, which provides harm reduction outreach to hundreds of people in SROs. “This is a program that works. There’s no way people are going to get the help they need.”

A source said that HOPWA coordinator John Rojas expressed regret that about the funding swap, but that his higher-ups made the decision. The NYC DOH said it was an “agency decision.”

Gaining political support

Without HOPWA dollars the Ali Forney Center, won’t be able to fund the city’s only drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth, connecting them to housing and health care. According to a recent City Council study, there are 1,000 LGBT homeless youth in the city. Nationwide, it is estimated that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, greatly increasing their risk of contracting HIV.

“Without our drop-in center, these kids are going to be stranded in the street,” said Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano. Citing the fact that the number of men who have sex with men under 30 contracting HIV are increasing, Siciliano said, “Homeless LGBT youth need this service. It’s a life or death situation.” In 2007, the drop-in center saw 500 clients, served 10,000 meals, put 200 in emergency housing, performed 250 HIV tests, and placed 50 HIV-positive clients into care and housing.

The Ali Forney Center is fighting back. On October 14, the Ali Forney Center held a press conference with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Tom Duane, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to denounce the funding cut. They joined Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, New York City Councilmembers Lewis Fidler, Rosie Mendez and Christine Quinn in writing a letter to Bloomberg.

“Those of us in Washington who have fought very hard, every year we have fought very hard, to maintain and increase HOPWA funding are not pleased that the city, without any direction from Washington, suddenly takes it upon itself to eliminate an entire category of funding within the HOPWA program, leaving so many vulnerable young people exposed,” Nadler said at the press conference, according to the Gay City News.

The Ali Forney Center is enlisting community support. Supporters are asked to urge Mayor Bloomberg to renew HOPWA funding.

Posted on October 30, 2008 at 7:00 pm