Members of several organizations from all over the city met outside of City Hall on Monday morning to rally against the proposed cuts to meals and housing for New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS. Armed with protest signs, they spoke out against Mayor Bloomberg's plan to cut what they say amounts to almost $ 1 million from meal services, and an additional $5 million in funding for supportive housing.
One potential casualty of the proposed cuts is the Momentum Project, a volunteer-run organization that has been helping people with AIDS and HIV since 1985. Donnell Tillman-Basket, director of client services at Momentum, said that if the organization does wind up closing, the results would be disastrous.
"People would go hungry," she said. "Hospitalization rates would go up, because without food and nutrition, medication won't work. Medicine doesn't work unless people eat. In addition to hot meals, we also provide pantry and produce bags for those who can't afford it. "
Although Momentum has been appealing to the City Council for extra money, the chances of its survival look bleak.
"They said they'd be able to give us something," Tillman-Basket said. "But it will be significantly less than even the annual $500,000, because there are so many hands out this year. We're looking at $100,000, maybe."
Harlem United Community AIDS Center, Inc., an organization committed to caring for HIV/AIDS victims and getting them treatment, also faces cuts in their funding. Like other providers, they argue that they save the city money by helping people avoid more expensive medical treatment.
"Our organization reduces unnecessary care services by 10 percent,"said Tamara Green, Associate Vice President of Harlem United. "That saves the city close to $1 million. We're currently taking care of 575 people with HIV/AIDS, and 41.57 percent of our patients have shown improvements in T-cell count. Supportive housing saves lives."
In a statement, New York City Human Resources Administration spokeswoman Connie Ress said: "HRA's proposed HASA cuts will ensure the continuation and preservation of the program by streamlining services and stretching funds further without adverse affects to our clients. Funded at more than $400 million, HASA provides greater care and support to our residents with clinical symptomatic HIV or AIDS than any other program, in any other
city in the country."
Anyone care to budget-dance?
Because the cuts are threatened every year, some suspect that the mayor is simply going through the motions, expecting the Council to make up the money that he is taking away. However, many feel that this year, things are different.
"He [Bloomberg] knows that we have to provide for people with AIDS and HIV," said Councilman Daniel Dromm for the 25th district in Queens. "What he does is he shifts responsibility to the Council to provide funding that should be part of the budget automatically. He takes it out and hopes the council will restore it."
However, Nicole Branca, policy director for the Supportive Housing Network of New York, thinks that the threat of major cuts this year is worse than usual.
"The cuts to AIDS and HIV housing are more than twice what they were last year,"she said. "They know that the Council helped with the cut the last two years, but this year they simply don't have the money. These cuts strike at the heart of supportive housing's success and it endangers the health and housing stability of 4,400 formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS."
Case management braces for hit
The new budget also includes severe cuts to case management in permanent supportive housing. A case manager is someone who is assigned to take care of person who lives in permanent housing.
For example, in many cases, someone becomes homeless due to mental problems, medical issues or substance abuse. A case manager's job would be to make sure this person gets the mental health help they need, takes their medication on time and deals with their substance-abuse problem. If the proposed cuts go through, many case managers will get fired, and these people in supportive housing will not receive the help they need.
"You can't just take formerly homeless people and leave them alone," said Jim Dill, executive director of Housing and Services Inc., a permanent supportive housing company established in 1987. "They need to battle the demons that got them homeless in the first place. Without case management, it's been proven time and time again that people will return to the streets even if you pay for all their housing.”
Among the speakers at the rally was Doug Collins, a man who was diagnosed with HIV and had to move into supportive housing himself.
"My life felt hopeless and meaningless," he said. "My case manager asked me how I felt. He cared about me. Period. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for him. He gave me the desire to live again. Now I feel like my government no longer recognizes me."