The city’s system for housing and assisting New Yorkers with AIDS is in for a big shakeup over the next few months.
At a City Council hearing last Thursday, Verna Eggleston, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, which oversees the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), shocked the crowd when she called one of her agency’s policies “crap” and vowed to dramatically overhaul it.
“I’ve directed my staff to reorganize HASA once and for all because it makes no sense to me,” she said of the division that provides housing and case management to New Yorkers living with the virus. Two decades into the AIDS epidemic, she added, local government still struggles with how to efficiently and humanely provide services. “Our phobia and our confusion has not much changed,” the commissioner said. “There are still many people on my staff–and on other staffs–who think the disease is limited to the gay community.”
And, taking a jab at one of the city’s policies for housing homeless families and people with AIDS, she then dismissed HASA’s practice of paying high daily rates to landlords for emergency housing: “I mean, that’s crap.”
Details on what the new and improved HASA will look like are still unclear. HRA is currently in the midst of a national search to replace former HASA chief Greg Caldwell–HRA Deputy Commissioner Jane Corbett has led the agency since early September. Meanwhile, the division’s senior staff has been meeting regularly with community groups and advocates for people with AIDS to collect ideas on how the agency should change. HRA says that within three months, it will issue a detailed plan for HASA’s reorganization.
Advocates for people living with HIV and AIDS are cautiously optimistic that Eggleston’s passion and intensity will translate into improved services. “Deputy Commissioner Jane Corbett’s been very open to listening to our suggestions,” said Jennifer Flynn of the New York City AIDS Housing Network. “I think they will change.”
One thing may be for certain: Eggleston herself is personally checking on the agency’s work to make sure it gets better. “Because I don’t have a life,” she told councilmembers, “I call people at night who are our clients to see how we’re doing.”