Angrily denouncing a city policy that would drug test all welfare recipients and deny benefits to anyone who fails, protesters chained themselves to furniture in the office of NYC Human Resources Director Jason Turner this week. The protesters, members of the AIDS services and advocacy group Housing Works, Act Up of New York and the Urban Justice Center, arrived at the downtown office in groups of two and three, rode to the 25th floor and began their occupation.
The theme of the protest was "Stop Criminalizing Poverty and Addiction," and a list of ten demands was presented to Turner.
The protesters contend that the policy represents an unnecessary intrusion, especially for those recipients already in treatment. Studies indicate that relapse, even multiple times, is normal during the course of drug treatment. Stripping aid to those who are in the process of getting clean is likely to drive the individual back to problematic drug use, protesters said.
Keith Cylar, co-executive director of Housing Works, a New York-based AIDS services and harm reduction agency, told The Week Online that the proposed policy would prove harmful to those recipients attempting to put their lives back in order.
"The city of New York, under Mayor Giuliani, has pursued a policy of expansive criminalization of the poor and the vulnerable. This proposed policy flies in the face of everything that the medical community knows about addiction and recovery. Many people who are receiving assistance are either in treatment or are receiving harm-reduction services with an eye toward eliminating the problematic use of substances. But nowhere, under no program known to medicine, do people with substance abuse problems simply stop using, immediately and permanently.
"To tie people's health benefits, access to their treatment programs and food and shelter assistance to the results of random drug tests is not only unscientific, it's inhuman. This policy will undoubtedly mean more people put out on the street, more people reverting back to problematic substance abuse and, quite frankly, more people dying. We went to the Department of Human Resources this week to let them know that we are not going to stand idly by while they put our people at risk for political gain."
Among the protesters' demands are that the city of New York rescind the clinical practice guidelines and leave treatment decisions to treatment professionals, reopen the working group on substance abuse and workfare, recognize recovery as a process and stop punishing relapse with sanctions, stop forcing welfare recipients to waive their medical privacy rights, and recognize harm reduction as a viable and valid treatment modality.
Housing Works can be found on the world wide web at http://www.housingworks.org.