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AIDS Walk Supporters Outraged to Hear Most Donations Go to Rent

By Mathew Katz | November 8, 2013 6:53am
 AIDS Walk New York raises millions every year, but a large portion of that recently went to paying overhead costs like rent, records show.
AIDS Walk New York raises millions every year, but a large portion of that recently went to paying overhead costs like rent, records show.
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CHELSEA — After learning that nearly all the money donated to the New York AIDS Walk goes to pay for rent, administration and overhead, many longtime supporters of the fundraising event questioned whether they could participate in it again.

For clients of Gay Men's Health Crisis, the main beneficiary of the event, the news that the group will only spend $374,000 of the $11.4 million it raises in private donations this year on AIDS services was a slap in the face.

"They're not going to keep on using me," said Cynthia Solomon, a client of GMHC since 1997. "Why do I want to be part of an organization if they're basically stealing from us?"

While GMHC still spends about half its $27 million budget on programs for people with HIV or at risk of contracting it, nearly all of that funding comes from the government, according to internal budget documents and multiple inside sources.

As DNAinfo New York first reported, the AIDS Walk money and other private donations largely go to covering overhead costs, including for the organization's whopping $389,000 a month rent for largely empty West 33rd Street offices.

GMHC called the story "inaccurate and misleading" on Twitter Thursday afternoon, but a spokeswoman declined to elaborate. 

Anisa Alhilali, a longtime supporter of the AIDS Walk, raised between $1,000 and $1,500 in previous years. But in 2014, she said she plans to stay home.

"I'm asking my friends to contribute money — and then the money is wasted or not going to the cause I'm trying to see it as," she said. "The ratio of what's going to the people that need it versus the administration and other costs is just absurd."

Other clients threw their support behind the organization in the face of the news.

"I’ve been a GMHC client for going on three years now, and my experience with the agency and its staff has been nothing but stellar," wrote Michael Bouldin on the nonprofit's Facebook page. "The people that work there are dedicated, passionate professionals performing enormous services for our community. I have nothing but gratitude for their work."

Joseph Sellman, a client of GMHC for nearly two decades, could not immediately say whether he would participate in next year's AIDS walk, but said he found the amount being spent on rent to be "awfully high."

"I want them to get out of the contract, the lease arrangement — it's really not helpful," he said.

The expensive offices have long been controversial, and the organization is now looking to break its lease and leave the 165,000-square-foot space. But sources close to GMHC worried privately that the organization would not be able to find cheaper space elsewhere — at $27 a square foot, their lease is a better deal than many others in the area.

"They should look to sublease most of their office — they have too much space, but everywhere else nearby is going to be more expensive per square foot," said one insider who asked to remain anonymous.

Blogger Rafi D'Angelo wrote that GMHC still does "a lot of good for the gay men of the city with HIV testing, counselling, advocacy work and education," but that he plans to skip the AIDS Walk this year.

"You won’t catch me at a Walk. And you won’t catch me paying the rent on an office they don’t need for executive officers who make three times my salary," D'Angelo wrote.

"They can have my little money once they learn to spend it more effectively and keep their hands out of the cookie jar."

UPDATE: Gay Men's Health Crisis released a statement Friday afternoon in response to DNAinfo's story. READ FULL STATEMENT HERE.