Housing Works – fighting AIDS in NYC

I discovered a little gem of a place on a short break in New York last week, and – aside from sneaking in a blog post about hanging out in NYC for a few days – I thought it was really worth highlighting Housing Works and specifically the Bookstore Café.

In short: Housing Works is an umbrella non-profit that runs social enterprises, and fundraises, to support its work with marginalised people living with AIDS and HIV (including active drug users, homeless people, sexual and ethnic minorities).

It runs Thrift Shops, a Bookstore Café which doubles as an after-hours gig venue (which I visited), and even a catering service (!). However, all of these services account for a just a quarter of its $43 million annual turnover (reasonably modest in ‘big’ charity terms – around £27m).

Housing Works is also somewhat of a campaigning tour de force: in 2010 for example its advocacy and legal teams took on – and defeated – New York Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA). HASA is the gateway to vital support services such as cash help and food stamps for 45,000 poor New Yorkers. Bloomberg had proposed cutting a third of the HASA’s case managers (around 248 jobs), which Housing Works saved; meaning many more of the poorest New Yorkers living with AIDS will continue to get the support they need. Nice work. Are we likely to see similar legal lobbying or fights in the UK regards proposed austerity cuts to the NHS I wonder?

My jaunt to The Bookstore Café was to see the Dylan-inspired (and Ryan Adams labelmate) Hayes Carll do an acoustic set. Every dollar from the gig, the beer, and books and CDs went to the charity. Plus the impressive space – about as far away from a ‘charity bookshop’ as you can imagine (as you can probably tell from my snap on the right) is staffed almost entirely by volunteers.

I learnt that the store is quite the hotspot for the city’s literary community – hosting panels, readings, and special events put on by major US publishers as well as titles such as The New Yorker.

I should also mention that Housing Works Inc does a fair amount of work internationally too. But you can find out more about this for yourself via their Vimeo channel and website.

So it was my fourth trip to New York, and subsequently the pressure was off to stay on the tourist circuit. Treading the streets with a trusty Time Out magazine in my pocket (and armed with friends’ restaurant recommendations) was a great way to discover a touch more about one of my favourite cities. And stumbling across a really inspiring non-profit / social enterprise with a real bite on behalf of the NYC residents it represents made it an eye-opener this time. Hayes Carll was great by the way ;).

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