The new center for health and wellness from San Francisco AIDS Foundation will be opening this fall at 470 Castro Street. Serving gay, bisexual and transgender men, the center will bring together community engagement and support, sexual health and substance health services.
“This model is a major innovation,” said Mike Discepola, the foundation’s director of substance health services. “Having all of our neighborhood programs in the single, larger space will help us reach and serve more people, and do it more seamlessly. In the beginning, there might be challenges, as there are with any change. But it will result in something that’s ultimately really awesome for the folks we’re serving.”
Called Strut—a name evoking confidence and support—the center will co-locate the sexual health services of Magnet, the substance health and mental health services of the Stonewall Project, and the community building and support programs of Bridgemen, the DREAAM Project, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network and Positive Force.
Strut will offer:
The center means the foundation can provide 25% more case management, 50% more substance use counseling, 25% more mental health counseling and up to 40% more HIV and STI testing. Clients of Magnet, the foundation’s sexual health center on 18th Street in the Castro, will now be served at Strut, where they will benefit from an expanded capacity. Magnet, which opened in 2003, and became a program of the foundation in 2007, has experienced ever-increasing demand for its free sexual health services since the day it opened. Introducing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) programs has further strained the facility, which only has three exam rooms.
“This morning there were about 30 people in line [at Magnet],” said Steve Gibson, the director of sexual health services for the foundation. “At Strut, our clients will have better access to services. This is something that’s been needed for years.”
Gibson will be happy to see the PrEP program and drop-in STI testing expand with the opening of Strut. The pilot phase of the PrEP program at Magnet—only advertised through word of mouth—enrolled more than 500 clients in less than a year. To prepare for the opening of Strut, which has twice as much space for sexual health services, Gibson is hiring two nurse practitioners and two additional PrEP benefits navigators.
“Being able to get the word out and increase access to PrEP, as well as our other sexual health services, will be key,” he said.
Discepola also anticipates increased demand for services when Strut opens. “Demand for Stonewall [the substance use program at the foundation] has always been very high, and sometimes we have a waitlist for our one-on-one counseling services. So we’ve added a new counselor to our staff, and we’ve innovated our program so that we’ll be able to serve people immediately with walk-in one-on-one counseling or walk-in group sessions while they’re waiting for other services,” he said.
Bridgemen program manager Jared Hemming said the community group would benefit from co-locating with other programs. “Even if someone is coming to Strut for sexual health services, they may see a fun Bridgemen event happening that they want to be a part of—and voila, that connection is made. It will be nice to have a one-stop-shop where people can get services they need, but also connect to a community and build meaningful personal relationships,” he said.
Collaboration between program staff is one innovation that many are looking forward to. Discepola describes it as an evolution in service delivery—and sees it as an opportunity. Relationships will become stronger among the providers at Strut, he said, and it will become easier to do trainings and capacity building staff-wide. “Being in one facility will enable us to evaluate how we’re holistically serving our clients. What are the pros and cons of what we’re doing? What’s working, and what’s not working? Those are the conversations that will be generated by integrating our services.”
Last but not least, program leaders are excited to move into the beautiful, new, modern space. “One of Bridgemen’s goals is to create a comfortable place for people to hang out and get to know each other. This building will be that space for us. Being in the Castro will also give us more exposure to the gay community and with that exposure we will be able to increase the community connections that Bridgemen makes. Whether it’s feeding meals to LGBT elders or running a silent auction for a big gala event, Bridgemen wants to make a difference in the community and having this new center will help us to keep building those important connections,” said Hemming.
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