$4 MILLION AWARDED TO THE OAKLAND LGBTQ COMMUNITY CENTER HIV/AIDS PROGRAM
Oakland CA- The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center is expanding its program capacity with the help of a three year, $4 million "Empowerment Project "grant, awarded by the State of California Department of Public Health through the Office of AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if current trends continue, 1 and 2, African American gay, bisexual and transgender individuals will be infected with HIV in their lifetime. The CDC also predicts that 1 in 4 Latino individuals from the same groups as the Black queer community, will have similar HIV rates in their lifetime as well, if something isn't done now. Further complicating the ongoing HIV epidemic disproportionately affecting communities of color, is the COVID-19 pandemic which adds an added layer of threat to community members with poor access to health care and underlying health conditions. In 2017, Joe Hawkins, co-founder and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, began writing a proposal to launch a new initiative called "Wellness First" which included a plan to open a culturally competent, LGBTQ focused health and wellness clinic onsite. "Our vision was to first focus the proposal on establishing sexual health services, to help end the high rates of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and other health disparities within the LGBTQ community, particularly among queer people of color here in Oakland. A primary focus of the new "Project Empowerment" grant is to provide wellness care management services to individuals at risk for or living with HIV, to include linkages to care, testing, prevention-treatments to include PEP and PrEP, and screening for other sexually transmitted infections. CHC services will also include hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and access to primary medical and dental care through a partnership with Lifelong Medical. These services will be integrated with our existing case management, mental health, and peer support group programming activities here at the Center" Hawkins said. In 2018, the Center with the help of Gilead Sciences, began holding exploratory meetings to open a new LGBTQ focused sexual health clinic in Oakland. After over eight months of planning meetings, the outcome resulted in a transbay collaboration between the Oakland LGBTQ Center, The San Francisco AIDS Foundation, ETR - an evaluation, training, and research nonprofit, and Lifelong Medical. Together, they developed a joint proposal that was initially written for submission to Gilead. The proposal as initially envisioned by the collaborating organizations was ultimately denied, however, Gilead instead awarded the Center with a one year grant, totaling $250k in 2019, to provide case management and linkage to treatment and care support to gay, bisexual men and transgender individuals. Center CEO, Joe Hawkins, said that so much time had been invested in the initial vision for the Center Health Clinic submitted the proposal to the State Office of AIDS, in response to their Project Empowerment RFP, which Hawkins felt was a perfect fit for the proposal that the partnership had worked together on for almost a year. Although highly competitive, the The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center was successful and awarded a grant totaling $4 million, over 3 years from the California State Office of AIDS, to join the fight to help stop the spread of HIV and provide prevention services to those at the highest risk for contracting the virus, and provide support to individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS in Oakland and Alameda County. Historically health disparities among African Americans and poor access to health care, stigma and racism are contributing factors to the ongoing and disproportionately high rates of HIV among Black people nationally and in California Black men represent % of the the county population, but account for % of the overall HIV cases. The California Department of Public Health Office of AIDS, issued a mid year 4 million dollar, multi-year, statewide RFA titled "Project Empowerment" to address the HIV health crisis within high risk communities. The Center was awarded under (Track A), to provide HIV prevention and care & treatment services to Black gay, and bisexual men and Black transgender individuals at risk for or living with HIV. The "Empowerment Project" grant will also allow the Oakland LGBTQ Center to expand its footprint by another two thousand square feet, at its current location, to take over the entire upper level of 3207 Lakeshore Ave., in order to open a sexual health clinic with capacity building support from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF), primary medical support from Lifelong Medical Clinics, and program evaluation support from ETR, a nationally recognized research and evaluation nonprofit based in Oakland. The Center recently negotiated a 15 year lease with the property owner to help stabilize its programs long term. The Office of AIDS Project Empowerment grant award, will allow the Center to offer new services to include, HIV and STI testing and treatment, access to primary medical care, benefits counseling, transportation assistance, eviction prevention/emergency housing subsidies, and food assistance. wellness and linkage to care coordination, care retention support, primary medical care navigation and access to HIV prevention treatments such as PEP and PrEP. The Center is expected to begin offering services under the State Office of AIDS grant by July of 2020. The new services will dovetail with a 250k grant award that the Center received from Gilead Sciences and a 50k grant from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF), to support our HIV Wellness First Initiative. The Center's new HIV Wellness First program will offer HIV prevention and care management services to LGBTQ+ people at risk for or living with HIV. When the Center opened its doors just over two years ago, it became Oakland's first all inclusive LGBTQ+ Community Center, and the first of its kind in the state, founded solely by African Americans, to serve a age, ethnic, and gender diverse population of LGBTQ+ people under one roof. The Center launched in the Fall of 2017, with the following mission; The Oakland LGBTQ+ Community Center is dedicated to enhancing and sustaining the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals, our families and allies, by providing educational, social, and health related activities, programs and services. "We are ready to join the fight to "get to zero" new HIV infections in Oakland and Alameda County. We look forward to working with our grant partners and in collaboration with community based organizations in our city, and county, and to help Oakland become the first city in America, to significantly reduce new HIV infection rates among Black queer people those with the highest ." said Center CEO and co-founder, Joe Hawkins.