Jul 29, 2021

NEW YORK CITY ADVOCATES TO MAYOR DE BLASIO: HOUSING WORKS, SHELTERS DON’T

NEW YORK CITY ADVOCATES TO MAYOR DE BLASIO: HOUSING WORKS, SHELTERS DON’T

9 people were arrested for civil disobedience at the July 29th “de Blasio’s Broken Record” Action calling out failures on providing safe and supportive solutions for New Yorkers

Thursday, July 29, 2021 -- NY, NY -- Housing Works, a NYC non-profit organization that provides advocacy, support, and lifesaving services to those impacted by homelessness and HIV/AIDS, along with Upper West Side Open Hearts, Fortune Society, NY Doctors Coalition, ACT UP NY, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Shams “Da Homeless Hero” DaBaron, Midtown South Community Council, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Columbia University, and others, staged a direct action with a civil disobedience component outside City Hall on Broadway this morning to call out Mayor de Blasio’s Broken Record on Homelessness. 

The group demanded the Mayor and city agencies act immediately to halt inhumane and poorly executed transfers of single New Yorkers experiencing homelessness from COVID-safe hotels into the unsafe congregate shelter system; stop street “sweeps” of people into the shelter system; and for the Mayor to take immediate action on Intro 146, a bill which require the City to pay higher rates in its rental assistance voucher program for homeless New Yorkers, which are currently so low as to be useless for the majority of people who qualify.

The action included a rally and speakout of elected officials, people directly impacted by homelessness and the city shelter system, and other community leaders, including Assemblymember Harvey Epstein; Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas; Deputy Public Advocate for Housing Delsenia Glover; Councilmember Brad Lander; Councilmember Stephen Levin; Future Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan; 30 Days of Homeless Rights campaign co-creator and activist Shams DaBaron; Charles King, CEO of Housing Works; Jaron Benjamin, VP of Advocacy Housing Works; Housing Works Leader Shade Rivera; Housing Works Board Member Cesar Figueroa; and VOCAL-NY Leader Milton Perez. After the speakout, nine activists took to the streets and blocked Broadway for 45 minutes, where they broke vinyl records to symbolize the Mayor’s broken record on homelessness, resulting in their arrest for civil disobedience. All 9 activists have been safely released. 

“I have been in a family shelter and in a single resident shelter, and single resident shelters are totally different,” said Rosalind Casillas, Case Manager for the Star 6 Program, Housing Works. “My partner was just transferred from a hotel to a single shelter. There is no help, no case managers, and no services. People are treated like they are incarcerated and the staff does not care. We need better options for people who qualify for programs and people who don’t, and we need a voucher system that works for the people who need it.”

“As far as we know, less than 20% of homeless New Yorkers to date have been vaccinated for COVID-19,” said Charles King, CEO and Co-founder, Housing Works.  “The Delta variant is causing a new surge of infections that will spread quickly in congregate shelters where as many as 50 people sleep in the same room. Many of our community members have been in single resident shelters and we know from their experiences that conditions are always unsafe, inhumane and grim. It is outrageous that the Mayor not only overlooks the reality that services can be delivered to those who need them in much safer and more welcoming settings, but he insists on enacting this plan to transfer people into shelters now, unnecessarily putting their lives at heightened risk.”

Mayor de Blasio first ran for his position in 2013 on a platform of healing the “Tale of Two Cities,” and has given lip service to addressing systemic inequity, but his broken record speaks for itself. “We’re going to respond to the crisis borough by borough, neighborhood by neighborhood, family by family, person by person,” he said in his 2017 plan, and today we see that plan has resulted in a proliferation of smaller shelters, the use of “street sweeps” to keep homeless New Yorkers away from tourists and wealthy neighborhoods, and a complete disregard for the safety of people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.

This action is part of the 30 Days of Homeless Rights campaign, created by directly impacted activists Maria Walles and  Shams “Da Homeless Hero” DaBaron, and enacted by a coalition of homeless rights organizations and directly impacted advocates over the month of July, 2021. The campaign was created in response to the city’s poorly conceived and unsafe plan to evict 8,000 homeless residents from the hotels where they have sheltered in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our trajectory shows a worsening homeless and housing crisis, which spells disaster not only for the unhoused, but for the moderate- to low-income, the formerly incarcerated, and the aging population,” said John Mudd, President, Midtown South Community Council. “It foretells a bleak future. The economic damage caused by the pandemic presents us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers out of the city’s now-vacant hotels. Any good you have done will be marred by this period in time. Transfers of homeless residents from hotels must result in housing, not placement in shelters.”

“Mayor de Blasio is sitting on legislation that could get homeless New Yorkers into housing, while recklessly sending people to their deaths,” said Corinne Low, co-founder of UWS Open Hearts Initiative. “Six weeks ago I thought these transfers were a terrible idea; today, with COVID numbers as they are, it’s criminal. Not only that, but these moves are in direct violation of the new CDC indoor masking guidelines. I'm shocked that our city and state officials are going through with these inhumane transfers, despite the stern warnings from public health officials. This is a death sentence. We need our leaders to wake up and save lives by keeping our homeless neighbors safe in hotels while we implement legislation that can get them a pathway to housing instead.”

“The organizing work I did with my fellow residents at the Lucerne has given a new voice to how we understand the housing crisis in the city,” said Shams DaBaron aka “Da Homeless Hero,” former Lucerne Hotel resident, homeless rights activist, and finalist for the David Prize for his advocacy on behalf of homeless New Yorkers. “We speak for ourselves now, and we demand the Mayor stop the transfers, which will literally kill people. Congregate shelters are death traps, with people sleeping 30-50, sometimes more to a room and beds 3 feet apart. I would know, I got Covid from living in one and nearly died. Instead of sending homeless New Yorkers to their deaths, in direct violation of the CDC's new guidelines, work with us to build real solutions to end homelessness now! ” 

“As health care and public health professionals we urge the city to halt its moves of individuals from hotels back into congregate shelters,” said NY Doctors Coalition in a letter signed by Dr. Oxiris Barbot and over 130 doctors and health professionals, calling on the Mayor and the city to halt the hotel transfers. “Moving half of the adult shelter system into individual hotel rooms during the pandemic saved lives. Despite this, by June 2020 COVID-19 was the second leading cause of death for those experiencing homelessness. In the year not yet accounted for in the city’s data, we witnessed the virus sicken and kill more from this community, including through the brutal winter surge. Therefore, we are alarmed by the decision to move almost 8,000 individuals from hotels to shelters, a decision that does not seem to have been made with health considerations in mind.”

“Our homeless neighbors are perhaps the most vulnerable of all New Yorkers, and we have their backs,” said Anne Kemper, member of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ). “Moving people from hotels to congregate shelters at this time denies their basic rights and recklessly risks the health of the entire city as the Delta variant surges. We call on the mayor to listen to CDC guidance and immediately halt the transfers.”

About Housing Works

For 30 years, Housing Works has fueled the fight to end HIV and Homelessness through fashion. Our Thrift Shops and signature events directly benefit our trailblazing work in grassroots activism, healthcare, and housing. Housing Works led the way during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, and continues to lead advocacy efforts across the country in support of social justice.

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Jennifer Johnson-Avril
(718) 408-6062
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Our Mission

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.

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