For over 30 years, Harlem United has worked tirelessly to address the issues and concerns of underserved Black and Brown communities in New York City. Our mission is to provide healthcare, housing, and supportive services to those most in need, working for their equitable access to these services, without barriers of racism, stigma, or discrimination. In reflection of the communities we serve, our staff are overwhelmingly people of color; we carry a deep understanding of our clients’ needs for trauma-informed, culturally affirmative care. It is a question of belonging.

We are committed to advocacy at all levels of governance, ensuring that public monies flow to communities who need it the most: those facing extreme poverty, grappling with chronic health issues, and who are affected by systemic injustices which act as barriers to accessing healthcare, housing and supportive services. These are our people, our community.

Harlem United’s advocacy work spans three areas that are naturally related and interwoven:

From our roots in the heart of Harlem as an AIDS services provider at the height of the AIDS Epidemic, Harlem United is now a nationally-recognized healthcare agency, offering HIV prevention, treatment, food security, and Adult Day Health Care facilities for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and other chronic conditions. We have developed and refined our holistic model of care to address the social determinants of health for our clients over the last three decades. Today, we continue our support for clients struggling with homelessness and multiple chronic conditions, expanding this same comprehensive approach to care for those struggling with substance use, homelessness, or serious mental illness.

We safeguard our clients’ right to services in a dignified environment, protect their confidentiality, and advocate for legal protections that help them live full lives with permanent housing, good food, and a sense of community around them. Guaranteeing that the most vulnerable among us get help is how we got our start and remains at the heart of all of our services.

Everyone deserves a warm bed, regular meals, and a helping hand. Everyone should be able to go to a doctor who cares. For decades, our healthcare and social services have been financially starved, while racial and ethnic inequalities continued to create greater societal rifts. Speaking eloquently about social determinants of health is not enough anymore. It’s past time to deal with the root of the problem. We need to come up with tangible solutions and real answers to social inequity. Housing is healthcare and all people should have equal access, regardless of ability to pay, housing status, medical conditions, or what their gender/sexual orientation is.

We push at the state and city levels for increased healthcare funding to provide better and more comprehensive medical and behavioral health services for everyone. Better healthcare for low-income folks, safe and affordable housing for those who are homeless, more meals to folks who are hungry, and increased services in our AIDS Adult Day Health Center means a better quality of living for us all.

It also translates to increased access to services for the LGBTQ community and specialized services for women. We believe that each person has the choice to decide what happens with our own body. We envision a world where everyone thrives regardless of how they identify, the clothing they wear, or who they love. People of all genders have a right to independent, healthy lives, with basic needs, like food, shelter, and healthcare. We believe women should get equal pay for equal work

We also recognize that some people, because of heritage, color, or ethnicity, are met with obstacles to opportunities that should be available to everyone. Communities of color are – and have been – systematically deprived of high-quality, preventative healthcare and social supports by legal and provider biases which have actively worked together against their economic and social equality. Black and Brown neighborhoods are disproportionately polluted, with poorly funded community healthcare, public education, and social services, contributing to depressing health outcomes and low life expectancies.

The U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 has further exposed these health disparities, as people of color face rates of severe illness or death at twice the rate – or higher - than whites. But it didn’t start only with COVID-19, this has historically been the case. Though African Americans accounted for only 13% of our national population in 2018, 42% of new HIV diagnoses were Black, while 26% of HIV diagnoses were Latino/as.

These disparities show up consistently across conditions and regardless of income, education, or other socioeconomic indicators for Black and Brown people in America. It is not enough to say Black lives matter, while Americans of color die from treatable conditions simply due to lack of preventative care. We must prove it, with concretized changes to the way our society cares for its most vulnerable members. All of us - no matter our color - must respond to racism and xenophobia, finding our place in the fight to dismantle white supremacist systems set up long before we were born. Racism is a public health crisis.

Not only are Black people dying at greater rates, they are being killed at higher rates as well, with African Americans about 3 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. Police violence against communities of color is increasing statistically year by year, with cases of police brutality and murders of people of color being at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is time for change and police reform.

Now is the time to reallocate public monies to respond to our communities’ needs. It is time to defund the police. Law enforcement would do best to focus on crimes and criminals, making space for mental health providers, doctors, and social workers to address issues of community health, referrals for food programs, supportive housing, and mental health diagnoses. We believe that this shift in responsibilities and fiscal spending will lead to a more balanced, community approach, where trust can be built between government and targeted populations. Because people shouldn’t be targets, brutalized due to racial or ethnic profiling. This is America.

Police reformations that we see as critical to our vision of healthy lives for all include:

  • Divestment from bloated law enforcement budgets
  • Fund reallocations to social services, housing, and low-income communities
  • Development of new community roles for social workers, health providers, and educators
  • Implementation of community-led neighborhood models for public safety
  • End to militarization, excessive force, and racial discrimination in law enforcement

While publicly-funded law enforcement budgets of - have continued to grow, community healthcare and social services have been privatized and defunded, starved of the finances needed to sustain community healthcare and social services programs for the most vulnerable among us.

Legislative policy shifts which fund reparative measures in healthcare, low-income housing, and more social services geared to historically excluded communities, will build positive change where the impact is needed most: in communities of color, who have never been given a fair chance.

Harlem United will use its voice to support lawmakers in passing long-overdue protections, always striving to represent our clients, from criminal justice reforms, LGBTQ equality measures, reproductive rights, and access to care. Successes in last year’s legislative session include: passages of GENDA, the Reproductive Health Act, and expansion of insurance coverage for PrEP prescriptions; bans on conversion therapy for people under the age of 18 and of the “gay and trans panic” defenses; and the end of cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses.

2020 is only halfway over! We have redoubled our commitment to the communities we serve in the face of policies and racial/ethnic inequities that have left our communities grieving and angered. The events of the last few weeks have made it clear that we must root out structural inequalities wherever we see them.

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