20 Arrested in Protest Over HRA Policies 

20 Arrested in Protest Over HRA Policies 
Posted by FoM on December 07, 1999 at 15:05:08 PT
By Donna De La Cruz, Associated Press
Source: Boston Globe
Twenty people were arrested Tuesday after they stormed the executive offices of the city's Human Resources Administration to protest what they said the agency's harsh and inhumane policies toward poor and disabled New Yorkers with drug and alcohol problems. 
Housing Works Inc., one of the protest organizers, claims the agency's new welfare drug screening program has kicked more people off public assistance and medical care than it has helped get drug treatment. The not-for-profit group provides housing, health care, job training and support services to homeless and poor residents with HIV or AIDS. ''We need to bring attention to the horrible practices of this administration that criminalizes poverty and addiction,'' said Lisa Edwards, a staff attorney for Housing Works. Housing Works, together with the New York City AIDS Housing Network, the Urban Justice Center and Act-Up New York, was protesting a recent city policy that withholds benefits from welfare recipients who test positive after one month of treatment in drug and alcohol programs. Housing Works counselor Michael Kelly said the city does not consider medical evidence that relapses should be considered part of the recovery process. ''Some people who are dropped from their programs don't have anywhere to go but the street,'' he said. Twenty protesters staged a 90-minute sit-in on the 25th floor of HRA's office building in lower Manhattan. Some handcuffed themselves to desks and other heavy objects while others commandeered the fax machine to send press releases to various news organizations. Another 20 people demonstrated outside. HRA spokeswoman Debra Sproles did not return several telephone calls seeking comment. But the agency released a statement that said: ''Once again, Housing Works demonstrated their willingness to engage in criminal activity. It is a disgrace that they oppose the city's efforts to help poor people gain access to needed support services that will ultimately help them to move from dependency to self-sufficiency.'' Protesters told organizers outside the building that HRA Commissioner Jason A. Turner was in his office when they entered, but that could not be confirmed. Protesters outside some carrying signs with Turner's photo and ''The grinch who stole benefits'' beneath it issued 10 demands to HRA, including: recognizing recovery as a process and stopping the practice of punishing relapses with sanctions; and rescinding the policy of forcing homeless shelter residents to comply with welfare requirements. The protesters entered the building in small groups between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and told security guards they were going to an HRA meeting, Ms. Edwards said. There was no meeting scheduled. HRA employees then called police who responded in force, some with riot gear and plastic handcuffs. Two police vans carried the protesters kicking and chanting inside to the 7th Precinct for booking. The 11 men and nine women were charged with trespassing. Published: December 7, 1999 Copyright 1999 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc.Related Articles:Judge Blocks Drug-Testing of Welfare Recipients-11/10/99 Tests Welfare Recipients for Drugs - 11/04/99
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