By Nathalia Teixeira/Kent State NewsLab
Akron’s Bayard Rustin LGBTQ+ Resource Center is expanding through a new partnership with Equitas Health.
At the current center — a large house on West Market Street — youth from ages 18 to 24 years old are invited to play pool, ping-pong and pinball machines. The Akron AIDS Collaborative, which hosts the Bayard Rustin Center, also does outreach to LGBTQ+ youth homeless youth, inviting them to take showers and supporting their search for permanent housing.
In the new center, Equitas Health — a statewide organization that supports LGBTQ+ healthcare — will focus on mental health, such as counseling and substance abuse services and HIV prevention. The Akron AIDS Collaborative will also offer case management, housing referrals, food and a clothing bank.
The new center will open Sept. 6 at the Five Points Shopping Center, which is at 636 W. Exchange St. in Akron.
“It’s to be a welcoming space where they won’t feel threatened, feel welcome and feel they can ask for help and maybe help define what kind of help they need,” said Rev. Robert Dreese, senior pastor of First Grace United Church of Christ and the Bayard Rustin Center’s treasurer.
Equitas Health Center spokesperson Anthony Clemente said in an email that tens of thousands of low-income residents near the new health center are without a medical home.
“By opening our health center and co-locating with the Akron AIDS Collaborative, Equitas Health can help fill this gap by improving healthcare access for [LGBTQ+] Akron patients,” Clemente said in an email.
To assist in getting people living with or at risk of HIV into care, Equitas Health develops connections with neighborhood organizations like the Akron AIDS Collaborative. Both organizations have long served people who are HIV-positive or at risk of catching the virus.
Akron’s Bayard Rustin Center and Equitas Health saw the need to expand and outreach to this specific Akron area, predominantly to people of color.
“There’s a need [for the new services] in our community because there’s the lack of that,” said Steve Arrington, executive director of the Akron AIDS Collaborative. “When I say our community, there’s a need in the minority LGBTQ community. We all don’t use mainstream systems that are in place that lack cultural competency for the target population of people of color that are in the LGBTQ community.”
After discussions about expanding Equitas healthcare services in Akron started, the center began interacting with neighborhood partners to assess local needs.
“By working with the Akron AIDS Collaborative and other partners, Equitas Health aims to take a grassroots approach to reach the people who need our services most,” Clemente said in an email.
This relationship will help remove typical obstacles to HIV care, partners say.
“Clients of the Akron AIDS Collaborative will benefit most from this partnership,” Clemente said in an email. “With a new, more direct path to care from AAC to Equitas Health, clients will now have improved access to the quality, affirming healthcare that we believe everyone deserves.”
Patient can expect improved access to diagnostics, case management, referrals and food and clothing help, Clemente said in an email.
The new center will also focus on reaching out to people experiencing homelessness, especially LGBTQ+ people. Dresse said many of these young adults can’t define what they need because they are in survival mode, trying to figure out where they will get their next meal or where to stay the night and be safe.
“The new space will give us more breathing room and be able to have more physical resources available for people than right now,” Dreese said.
The organizations may contribute to reducing the HIV epidemic in the Akron region by making preventative services more accessible.
The new site will replicate Equitas Health’s medical facilities in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. Primary care, specialized HIV care, behavioral health, dental care and other treatments are all available at these health centers.
The Akron health center will initially provide pharmacy and medical services.
“These services complement and enhance the offerings provided by the Akron AIDS Collaborative, a longstanding and trusted resource in Summit County,” Clemente said in an email.
Dreese is optimistic that these services won’t be needed in 10 years, but says both organizations are committed to building the community.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that that doesn’t always come true,” Dreese said. “We look for allies as concerned as we are and willing to work with us to protect and serve.”
This story was originally published by the Kent State NewsLab, a collaborative newsroom staffed by Kent State students.