By Linda Walubengo, MPH
As San Francisco and the entire Bay Area change, so too do the communities that reside here. Over the past couple of years, the city has seen a significant shift in Bay Area residents, droves moving out of San Francisco due to increased cost of living and other socio-economic factors. These shifts create a void leaving uprooted friends, family and community members less able to provide consistent and much-needed social support to each other.
Although the city is small, the impact of social isolation is significant. This is especially true for the aging population, communities of color and transgender communities. People in these communities who remain in San Francisco face not only skyrocketing rents and housing scarcity, but also the challenge of maintaining a comfortable lifestyle without social ties and networks.
Social networks are essential to our overall health and wellbeing. What can be done to improve this aspect of our lives?
In order to best address these needs, the programs and civic engagement opportunities at San Francisco AIDS Foundation are designed to address some of the social isolation challenges our communities face in San Francisco.
The Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network (50-Plus) currently serves gay, bisexual and queer (GBQ) men, and transgender and gender non-binary (TGNB) individuals over age 50. In addition to weekly coffee gatherings and group dinners, the group offers educational events related to HIV and healthy aging. 50-Plus supports events like support and discussion groups, resource advocacy and case management, educational and cultural events in intergenerational spaces, service and volunteer projects as well as advocacy efforts. Many group members—having lost friends and loved ones from HIV—re-connect to their community through 50-Plus.
We also offer programming focused on improving the quality of overall health and life of African American men who have sex with men, especially when it comes to the impact of HIV/AIDS. Black Brothers Esteem (BBE) and The DREAAM Project provide education and skills-building, support individual goal setting and action, enhance social connection and provide ongoing social support.
TransLife offers an array of services to support and empower our transgender and non-binary communities—particularly trans women of color who have experienced violence or discrimination. The group provides a safe space for participants to come together and build friendships. TransLife also offers workshops and learning events, testing and sexual health services, a weekly drop-in group and other support such as professional development training.
We also offer Latino/Latinx programming centered on culturally responsive and comprehensive support services for Latinos and Latinx communities and their families. El Grupo de Apoyo Latino has a 20-year legacy, having helped create community and facilitate support for hundreds of community members from Spanish-speaking countries and the U.S. Group facilitators provide assistance with needs related to immigration status, language, food insecurity and more. A peer-led ambassador program in addition to a weekly phone call check-in service helps us reach isolated clients, ensuring that each client knows that they are part of a community of caring.
Our efforts improve the experiences of many of our clients who would otherwise not have a community to support them.
“I've met a large number of other members who have become both acquaintances and close friends, said Mick, a member of the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network. “Through the group process and associated activities, my outlook changed, my confidence and self-esteem greatly improved, and my negative feelings about aging (mine and others) changed. Life can't get much better for me.”
Social isolation is definitely a sad reality for many people in San Francisco. It’s important that our community engagement efforts address some of these social isolation challenges through culturally appropriate social support programs and services.
Addressing social isolation will in turn improve the mental health and wellbeing of our community and support longer, healthier lives for our clients. San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s cultural, educational and social programming in partnership and collaboration with other community-based projects help reduce isolation and alienation while building social networks.
Although our city may be going through a population shift, we remain resilient and responsive to these changes for the benefit of the mental health and wellness of our beloved communities.
Linda Walubengo, MPH is the senior director of program administration and operations at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
Get involved! Join a San Francisco AIDS Foundation group or event. Find out more about the social and support groups at the foundation.
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