Charles King is the president of Housing Works, a non-profit that supports homeless and HIV-positive New Yorkers. The group operates seven thrift shops citywide and a used bookstore in SoHo.
King grew up in the South, the son of a fundamentalist minister who beat him and forced him to eat in solitude for being gay. Nevertheless, King became a Baptist preacher himself and earned two Yale degrees (law and divinity) before founding Housing Works with longtime partner Keith Cylar in 1992. The two served as co-presidents of the organization until Cylar's death from AIDS-related complications in 2004.
Since its founding, Housing Works group has provided subsidized housing and health care to the homeless as well as those living with HIV and AIDS, a mission partly attributable to King's strong religious faith. (He still ministers to his flock-he conducts Sunday morning Bible classes for drug addicts.) To most New Yorkers, Housing Works is best known for its beloved mini-chain of thrift stores around the city-with their glamorous window displays and online auctions, they're upscale without actually being expensive. The group also operates a used bookstore in SoHo, which hosts readings with authors like Jonathan Franzen and is typically filled with hipsters sipping chai.
In 1997, Rudy Giuliani cut off $6.5 million in city contracts with Housing Works, claiming that the funds had been mismanaged. The move was widely seen as opposition to AIDS activism in general and punishment for Housing Works' aggressive promotion of the cause. Housing Works sued the city, claiming that the contracts had been severed because the group had criticized Giuliani's policies. The case dragged on until 2005, when the city finally agreed to pay out $5 million to the group to settle the issue. King is no stranger to standing up for what he believes in, over the years he has been arrested over 50 times for acts of civil disobedience.
He has lived on the fifth floor of the East 9th Street Housing Works building since 1997, along with 36 Housing Works clients who would otherwise be homeless. King reports that he hasn't spoken to his parents or any of his ten brothers and sisters since 1985. The last letter he got from his dad included a propaganda pamphlet called "The Truth About Homosexuals…20th Century Sodomites!"
[Image via HousingWorks]