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Housing Works

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Housing Works
FoundersKeith Cylar, Charles King, Eric Sawyer and Virginia Shubert
PurposeEnd homelessness and AIDS

Housing Works is a New York City-based non-profit fighting AIDS and homelessness. The charity is well known for its entrepreneurial businesses including a chain of thrift shops, which supports efforts to end AIDS and homelessness where they are based. They are also known for their social justice activism. As of March 2017, the organization has served 30,000 clients.[1]

In 1990, four members of the AIDS activist group ACT UP—Keith Cylar, Charles King, Eric Sawyer and Virginia Shubert—decided to dedicate themselves to serving one of New York City’s then-most neglected populations: the tens of thousands of homeless men, women, and children in the city living with HIV and AIDS.[citation needed] The activists called their new group Housing Works because they believed that stable housing was the key to helping HIV-positive people live healthy and fulfilling lives and to prevent the further spread of the virus.[2]


The organization runs a chain of thrift shops, a bookstore café, and a dispensary[3] as social enterprises to support their work and lower dependence on grants and donations. They also provide health care, advocacy, job training, reentry services, harm reduction services including syringe exchange services, medication for opioid use disorder, mental health counseling, adult day health care, and legal aid support. The group has satellite offices in Albany, New York, Brooklyn, New York, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and New Orleans.

Bookstore Cafe & bar[edit]

Housing Works Cafe and Bookstore in SoHo, New York City

Founded in 1994 and located in Soho on Crosby Street, the bookstore cafe[4] is a successful entrepreneurial business raising money to support the Housing Works mission. Run primarily by a team of specially-trained volunteers, the bookstore is funded entirely by donations, and resells both in the retail space and online. Free and ticketed events[5] occur throughout the week, and the space is available for privately-rented parties, lectures, and is a popular wedding destination. Events range from story time and sing-a-long for babies, a middle-grade book group,[6] storytelling, trivia, screenings, activist talks, comedy, music, and performance (artists include Iron and Wine,[7] Bjork, The Black Keys, Conor Oberst, and others), and many literary events celebrating established writers and new talent. The venue hosts twice-monthly editions of The Moth StorySLAM. The Cafe and bar sells food, hot and cold drinks, and is licensed to sell alcohol. The space has been featured in numerous movies and TV episodes, most recently Law & Order SVU.[citation needed]

Thrift shops[edit]

Housing Works is well-known to New Yorkers for its chain of upscale thrift shops. The New York Times has mentioned the shops in its neighborhood reviews.[8] Housing Works Thrift Shop is featured in Seinfeld episode 173, "The Bookstore". George is forced to buy a book from Brentano's Bookstore because he took it in the restroom. He then tries to donate it to Housing Works Thrift Shop and claim a $200 tax write off but the clerk at the thrift shop used to work for Brentano's so she recognizes the book has been flagged that it has been in the restroom and runs him out of the store.

Cannabis dispensary[edit]

Housing Works opened New York City and New York State's first legal recreational dispensary on December 29, 2022, with the proceeds funding Housing Works' larger mission combating homelessness and AIDS.[9] Commenters and lawmakers have questioned the propriety of a homelessness and anti-AIDS non-profit funding its activities through drug sales.[10] Housing Works also became the first recreational dispensary in New York to offer home delivery of cannabis products. [11]

Haiti earthquake relief[edit]

In early 2010, Housing Works became involved in providing assistance to victims of Haiti's earthquake, especially those living with HIV/AIDS, by re-building three health clinics.[12][13][14] Housing Works CEO Charles King auctioned off his trademark pony tail, and one bidder was Evangelical preacher Rick Warren.[12][14] When Housing Works relief workers were forced to "abandon eight carry on bags filled with relief supplies" due to high fees, Delta Air Lines agreed to ship the supplies for free.[13]


Housing Works is involved in advocating for health care reform and affordable housing.[15]

In October 2019, Housing Works organized a mass demonstration outside of the Supreme Court in support of LGBTQ civil rights, resulting in over 100 activists being arrested.[16]


Union busting[edit]

In late 2019 and into 2020, Housing Works leadership began engaging in what many progressive leaders and labor organizations classify as union busting after the staff began a worker-led unionization effort to address a host of issues (such as workplace safety, benefits, and a lack of a living wage for many workers while some of the organization's executives receive six-figure salaries) impacting staff and the quality of service they provide to their community.[17] Despite their assertion that they are not anti-union, Housing Works has retained a known "union busting" firm, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, "which prides itself as keeping workplaces 'union-free,' according to its website, and has a history of cases that include working against the 1960s agricultural labor activist Cesar Chavez and defending Harvey Weinstein’s film company against a slew of sexual harassment claims."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Us". Housing Works. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  2. ^ "History". Housing Works. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
  3. ^ Lavacca, Katherine (December 28, 2022). "Housing Works to open 1st legal cannabis dispensary in New York state December 29". Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  4. ^ "Bookstore Cafe". Housing Works. October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  5. ^ "Events". Housing Works. October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  6. ^ "Face to Face: Middle Readers Book Group (8-12)". Housing Works. October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  7. ^ "Live From Home with Iron & Wine". Housing Works. October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  8. ^ Feur, Alan (January 28, 2010). "Local Stop: Greenwich Village: Venturing Out on a Handyman's Errand". New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  9. ^ "About Housing Works Cannabis Co". Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  10. ^ Klein, Melissa (January 14, 2023). "NYC's Housing Works sells weed while helping clients quit smoking tobacco". New York Post. Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  11. ^ https://www.ny1.com/nyc/manhattan/politics/2023/03/17/legal-marijuana-delivery-arrives-in-nyc
  12. ^ a b Smith, Ben (February 4, 2010). "Warren bids on ponytail". Politico. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  13. ^ a b "Delta Helps HIV/AIDS Haiti Relief Workers". On Top Magazine. February 2, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  14. ^ a b "AIDS activist cutting 14-inch ponytail for Haiti benefit". New York Post. February 5, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  15. ^ Scholl, Diana (February 1, 2010). "AIDS Advocates Question Healthcare and Spending Cuts". RH Reality Check. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  16. ^ Slisco, Aila (October 8, 2019). "More Than 100 Protesters Arrested". Newsweek.
  17. ^ Liebson, Rebecca (October 29, 2019). "Housing Works Is Cast in Unusual Role: Corporate Overlord". The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  18. ^ Duggan, Kevin (November 5, 2019). "Politicians call out Housing Works for trying to halt employee unionization". Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved December 1, 2019.

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