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Housing Works Takes Over City Hall Park to Demand Policies and Funding to End AIDS Epidemic

November 29, 2012

Housing Is Healthcare: House People Living With HIV/AIDS

This morning, Housing Works took to the streets to let the world know that the AIDS epidemic isn't over until it's over for everyone. At roughly 10:45am, two Housing Works activists surreptitiously began to climb two forty-foot flagpoles at the southern end of City Hall Park, braving both the cold and the inevitable ire of the NYPD.

Moving fast despite the cold, the two climbers managed to get to the top of the flagpoles—backpacks, climbing harnesses, and supportive onlookers galore—before two NYPD foot patrolmen serendipitously walked by the two climbers and immediately began calling in for additional assistance.

As the two policeman remained flummoxed as to what was happening, the two climbers unfurled a massive, hand-painted banner that read, "Housing is Healthcare: House People Living with HIV/AIDS." As the banner waved in the winter breeze, additional Housing Works activists that had been posing as tourists and ordinary pedestrians began to chant, "Housing is healthcare: AIDS can't wait!" drawing the surprise and attention of both the police officers and tourists in the area.

Crowds immediately began to amass at the southern end of the park, even as the NYPD blocked pedestrian traffic into the park as well as the park's immediate sidewalk. Tourists, pedestrians, school children, and nearby office workers began taking photos and watching the NYPD try to take control of the protest.

By 11:15am, three police cruisers, a paddy wagon, and one singular fire truck arrived at the park's southern-most boundary at Broadway and Park Avenue, snarling southbound traffic in Manhattan. Even with roughly fifteen to twenty NYPD officers at the scene, Housing Works protestors in the air and on the ground continued to chant, calling for policies and funding that recognize stable housing as an important structural intervention to help people living with HIV/AIDS and curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS. When stably housed, people living with HIV/AIDS are better able to adhere to their care and treatments, and lower the risk of exposing others to the disease. Put simply, providing housing to people living with HIV/AIDS is a key intervention in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country and across the globe.

When the officers informed the two climbers they would be arrested if they didn't come down, instead of climbing down, the activists got on their blow horn and starting talking about why they were protesting. One climber, Tony Ray, said, "I am up here today because of the lack of attention to housing for people with AIDS. If people with AIDS have a safe place to live, and a place for them to refrigerate their meds, they are going to stay healthy. Housing is healthcare!" Tony's words and strength drew loud applause and accolades from both the Housing Works protestors as well as gathering onlookers, who also expressed their support.

One accountant walking by on his lunch break and who wished to be identified only as Greg G., said, "I think it's cool that Housing Works is doing this. It's been thirty years since the AIDS epidemic began and we still have politicians that treat it as though it's a moral issue or something that only affects gay men. It's ridiculous." Another onlooker, Kathleen A., a tourist from the Midwest who had recently disembarked from a nearby tour bus, said that she doesn't often think about the disease because it's a silent topic in her town, but thought the protest was a great "wake-up call to folks who think the epidemic is over, even if it's not on everyone's mind."

By 11:50am, the NYPD brought in an electric ladder—cherry picker, if you will—threatening to bring the climbers down if they didn't come down on their own accord. By 11:55am, the climbers had descended, were handcuffed, and taken into custody.

With World AIDS Day now two days away, it's no coincidence that we held our protest today. Despite millions and millions across the globe who have died from the disease, there continues to be an unmistakable political lethargy when it comes to ending the AIDS epidemic. Indeed, when leaders in Washington can't come to an agreement to avoid the Sequestration or Fiscal Cliff, which would cut $538 million in funds for HIV/AIDS programs and services, it is actions such as ours and Tuesday's joint action with Queerocracy, VOCAL, and ACT-UP, that we all must take to make leaders listen and take the steps necessary to end HIV/AIDS.

Want to join the fight? Great. Join us next Monday, December 3rd, from 8am-8pm at Brooklyn's Cadman Plaza East, as we read the names of those we have all lost to the disease. Since 1981, over 62 million people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and 30 million have died from the disease globally. In the United States, over 1.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and in New York State, over 181,000 residents are living with HIV/AIDS.

We need to give voice to the scourge of this epidemic and we need you ALL to participate in this World AIDS Day.

Photos of today's action can be viewed on our Flickr page. Video can be viewed on our Youtube channel.




This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:
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