11.04.21 Join the Positive Leaders Union

Join the Positive Leaders Union

Our Mission

Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) is a statewide grassroots membership organization that builds power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration, and homelessness in order to create healthy and just communities. We accomplish this through community organizing, leadership development, advocacy, direct services, participatory research and direct action.

Our Vision

VOCAL-NY is building a movement of low-income people dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and homelessness. We fight for systemic change rooted in justice, compassion, and love. We approach this work with a firm belief in reducing harm and ending stigma, and the knowledge that the issues impacting our communities are driven by institutional oppression, not personal failings. Our campaigns have saved or improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers across the state.

Our model of movement building draws inspiration from three traditions: (1) traditional community-based organizing, (2) direct-action AIDS activism, and (3) Black-led social movements for racial justice. Above all, we work with the knowledge that abolishing systemic poverty and injustice will only be done by building the leadership and power of the most marginalized among us.

Our History

VOCAL-NY, then known as NYCAHN (The New York City AIDS Housing Network), was founded in 1999 by Jennifer Flynn, Joe Bostic and Jose Capestany as a progressive AIDS housing network.

While many people believed that the HIV/AIDS crisis ended with the availability of new medication in the mid-90s, the reality is that the epidemic was becoming more and more concentrated in low-income communities of color, which made it difficult for those being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS to benefit from treatment advances. Our members always recognized that HIV/AIDS was not an isolated health issue but rather a symptom of institutional injustices rooted in race, gender and economic inequalities. Over the years, our organization evolved by expanding our efforts beyond winning treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS to addressing the root causes of the epidemic, like homelessness and incarceration.

NYCAHN became VOCAL-NY in 2010 to better reflect our multi-issue, multi-constituency organizing work in New York’s most marginalized communities.

Positive Leaders Union

From our original founding as the NYC AIDS Housing Network, ending the AIDS epidemic has been at the forefront of our mission. Central to our approach has been a commitment to fighting for basic needs, especially housing, for people living with HIV. In recent years, VOCAL-NY has also been a leading member of the coalition that made New York State the first jurisdiction in the world to commit to a plan to end AIDS.

VOCAL-NY’s involvement in efforts to create and fulfill New York’s Plan to End AIDS by 2020 have included community organizing and mobilization, creating pathways for leadership by people with HIV, and deeply engaged policy work on access to housing, harm reduction services, and government appropriations. We use every option available to win greater health and safety for people with HIV, from working on the governor’s End AIDS Task Force to civil disobedience and everything in between.

VOCAL-NY’s HIV/AIDS work is carried out through our Positive Leaders Union, which brings together low-income people living with HIV to fight for their health and rights.

Our recent accomplishments include:

  • Won the HASA 30% Rent Cap, a 10-year campaign that resulted in a 30% cap on income paid for rent for approximately 14,000 NYC HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) beneficiaries. The policy, enacted in 2014, saved thousands of people from becoming homeless, and increased thousands of people’s disposable income for basic necessities like food, medication, and transportation.
  • Won ‘HASA for ALL,’ an expansion of lifesaving housing and services to all people with an HIV diagnosis in New York City.
  • Prevented the elimination of housing and nutrition programs for 45,000 low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and their kids that Mayor Bloomberg sought to close through millions in budget cuts.
  • Restored nearly $4 million for supportive housing programs serving low-income people living with HIV/AIDS with substance use and mental health issues.

Organizational members that founded VOCAL-NY, then known as the NYC AIDS Housing Network, worked to create a comprehensive local law codifying the City’s Division of AIDS Services, the right to medically appropriate emergency housing (not shelter) and a comprehensive list of rights. This remains one of the most progressive pieces of welfare rights legislation anywhere in the country.

Contact Info

Jawanza Williams Jawanza@vocal-ny.org 917-488-4961

Ruwi Shaikh Ruwi@vocal-ny.org 718-753-5566

Kipp Kipp@vocal-ny.org 347-435-8436

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