PEOPLE WITH AIDS NEED HOMES, NOT EXCUSES
MAYOR NUTTER CLAIMS HE “CAN’T COMMIT” TO ACT UP’S PLAN TO “SAVE LIVES, SAVE MONEY” BY ENDING AIDS HOUSING WAIT LIST;
AIDS ACTIVISTS DIE-IN TO PROTEST MAYOR’S INACTION
Philadelphia – Members of AIDS activist groups ACT UP Philadelphia and Proyecto Sol, along with graduate students in the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Studies Program and medical school, met with Mayor Michael Nutter on Monday, November 8th. Readers of The defenestrator will recall that ACT UP has been engaged in a long campaign to ensure housing for people with AIDS in Philadelphia and have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to even meet with Mayor Nutter. (see “Over our dead bodies,” fall 2010).The students and activists asked the mayor to commit to spending two to four million dollars to create permanent housing to end the two-year long waiting list for housing for people with AIDS in Philadelphia.
ACT UP Members Carla Fields, Cliff Williams, and Carlos Gonzales (along with six other ACT UP members) shared personal testimony of the dangers of living on the streets and in shelters with a compromised immune system. All three had experienced stigma, dangerous diseases, fleas and bedbugs (which are especially dangerous for people living with HIV), poor nutrition, and lack of access to medication while in the city shelter system. Mr. Williams, whose wife passed away from HIV and cancer while on the AIDS housing wait list, pointed out that because shelters are the only options for people with AIDS who need homes, and there are no city shelters for families, he and his wife had to stay on opposite sides of the city while she was dying. Ms. Fields, who volunteers regularly in Philadelphia’s tent cities, and is homeless herself, testified that her experience was not unique. “I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for all my brothers and sisters who are dying and need homes.” Mr. Gonzales added that without the housing he eventually received, he would not be alive today. “Being in a home meant I could take my medicine, get good nutrition, and become a productive member of society.”
Urban Design students Jonathan Snyder and Phil Dawson and Professor Michael Nairn shared their research into housing models, costs, and ways for the city to fund housing for people with AIDS while reducing long-term costs. They shared that a “housing first” model, which provides stable, permanent housing without requiring long shelter stays and transitional housing, has saved other comparable cities $88,000 per client per year, when compared with the traditional model. In addition, the housing first model means that families like Mr. Williams would not have to spend years shuttling back and forth between mens’ and womens’ shelters, and people like Ms. Fields would not be forced to live for years in shelter systems that were actively making them sick through contagious diseases and insect infestations.
Mayor Nutter took detailed notes on each participant’s statement. Promising to review their documents and his notes, he continued, “I can’t commit to anything right now.” He explained that funding for the fiscal year 2012 was uncertain, and said, “I don’t want to make this a political conversation, but I live in a political world… A lot changed [on election day, November 2].”
ACT UP recognizes that Philadelphia faces a hostile, pro-business, anti-human needs environment in the Pennsylvania state government. We were outraged to learn that the state can and will hold revenue from the casinos hostage if the city attempts to raise taxes on businesses or individuals and disappointed to learn that the city’s smokeless-tobacco tax is earning less than it was projected to. However, ACT UP’s analysis of the city’s budget shows that the prison and court systems are massive drains on city resources. On top of that, millions are spent to put people into what ACT UP member Cliff Williams describes as “shelter warehouses.” We know that providing homes saves lives and saves money, keeps people out of jail and out of chronic homelessness. Why spend money to warehouse people in prisons and shelters, when for less money we could house them in permanent homes?
Mayor Nutter attempted to apologize personally to Ms. Fields, saying that no one should have to face the poor treatment she received in his shelter system. Ms. Fields countered that if he is not willing to commit to providing housing for people with AIDS, then his apology is meaningless. People will continue to get sick and face death in shelters and on the streets until Mayor Nutter finds the political will to end the AIDS housing crisis. He does live in a political world, and ACT UP recognizes that his problem is not financial; it’s not having the backbone to solve the problem.
On Wednesday, November 10th, AIDS activists, angered by the Mayor’s refusal to provide safe, stable housing to people with AIDS, to save lives and save the city money over time, gathered at City Hall to memorialize those for whom housing comes too late, and remind the mayor of the 8000 HIV-positive Philadelphians with unmet housing needs.
“People with AIDS need homes, not excuses,” proclaimed ACT UP and Proyecto Sol member Jose De Marco, before leading the activists in a die-in in front of the City Hall entrance. Chalk outlines of their bodies remained outside the Juniper entrance until it rained, a reminder to the mayor of the anger and disappointment he faced at the meeting the previous Monday.