The COVID-19 outbreak may be changing the way the Los Angeles LGBT Center offers many of its services and programs, but the Center remains open and committed to serving those in need.
“It’s extremely important for those who rely on our services every single day that we stay open, but we knew we were going to have to reinvent how we deliver a lot of our services,” said Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings during a recent town hall meeting with the organization’s sustaining donors.
Precautions are being taken for clients coming to Center locations for health, senior, and youth services. Many other programs and services, including Senior Services activities, Trans* Lounge groups, and youth mentoring are now happening virtually.
During the call, Cummings connected the organization’s responsive shift to COVID-19 to lessons learned during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.
“I am drawing on those experiences every day. We had to learn day by day, hour by hour and adjust the kinds of programs we were doing and add new ones to meet the community’s changing needs,” Cummings said. “We are an organization that knows how to reinvent itself. As a community, we will get through this and get to a better time.”
Telehealth Technology Strengthens Health Services’ Pre-COVID Capacity
The Center is one of the nation’s few Federally Qualified Health Centers with providers who specialize in care for LGBTQ people. Normally, hundreds of people a day get health care inside the organization’s bustling four-story McDonald/Wright Building, which includes a pharmacy.
In order to reduce that number under COVID-19, the Center’s Health Services and Information Technology teams collaborated to put in place a telehealth platform that allows a vast majority of routine appointments to take place via telephone or online. Less traffic in the building helps keep everyone safe.
“Telehealth option are helping ensure that we can stay open for those people who need to see a care provider in person,” Cummings said.
All clients must make an appointment to enter the building; walk-ins are no longer allowed. The Center’s pharmacy remains open Monday through Saturday for in-person transactions, but clients are encouraged to use the Center’s free delivery service.
Meals and Wellness Checks for Seniors
In the past year, senior clients were served a hot lunch provided by the Center’s Culinary Arts program and could participate other programs and activities at the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center on the Anita May Rosenstein Campus.
The senior center is now closed for activities, but box lunches are available for pickup each day. Several classes are now also available online, and staff members and volunteers are calling clients at home to find out if the Center can help them with any special needs.
“For our seniors, isolation is one of the worst things that they can experience,” Cummings pointed out. “They have been really appreciative of receiving that phone call and getting the help we’re able to provide.”
Meal service at the Center’s Triangle Square affordable senior housing is now delivered to the residents’ apartments daily. Staff and volunteers are also picking up groceries and medications.
Helping Youth Clients
Before COVID-19, the youth drop-in center at the Campus could sometimes have as many as 120 youth inside at one time having meals, meeting with case managers, or just hanging out.
Now, drop-in services and case management for youth without housing have moved from the Youth Center to The Village at Ed Gould Plaza’s courtyard located across the street. They can get something to eat there, use the restrooms, charge their devices, and connect with one another from a safe distance.
The Youth Center is now only used by the 100 or so youth in the Center’s residential programs to spend time, have meals, and participate in socially distanced activities.
“The young people we work with have adjusted to this new reality in ways that we think helps protect everybody. Everyone is in masks, and we are taking all the precautions that [the county department of]public health would suggest that we do,” Cummings said.
Fundraising Goes Virtual
AIDS/LifeCycle—the seven-day, 545-mile event scheduled for May 31 to June 6—raises critical support for the Center’s HIV and AIDS-related services along with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation has been canceled.
In order to maintain the current level of HIV and AIDS services provided to the community, both organizations have set a joint fundraising goal of $13 million—of which more than $6.5 million has already been raised by the ride’s participants through the innovative My 545 challenge. Instead of actually riding a bike outdoors, the virtual campaign gives people the opportunity to take on a different physical challenge of their choosing within the parameters of social distancing and sheltering in place.
“We really need to keep people fundraising to provide for the services,” Cummings said. “AIDS/LifeCycle is a multimillion-dollar event. We’re trying to do the best we can to recover as much of the fundraising dollars as possible and help people feel connected to the cause.”
The Center has also set up a CARE Fund to streamline donations to the Center’s critical programs and services. Support for the CARE Fund is coming through direct donations as well as several virtual mini-events listed on the Center’s calendar.
Construction Projects on Schedule
Comprised of 98 affordable units, construction work on The Ariadne Getty Foundation Senior Housing continues as does construction of 25 supportive housing apartments for youth, both located at the Campus.
“We just met with all the contractors, and they still feel we are on schedule to open later this year with both the seniors and youth facilities,” Cummings said. “We are going to have to reevaluate this as we get into late fall. At this point we are good to go.”
Also under construction: the Center’s Liberation Coffee House located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and McCadden Place on the Campus. The retail store’s opening date is planned for later this year. Cummings acknowledged the coffee shop’s purpose will be different than originally anticipated due to anticipated COVID-19 restrictions.
“People will be able to come in to get coffee or a sandwich, but it [initially]won’t be a place where people can hang out,” he said.
Despite all of the Center’s fundamental changes, cancellations, and postponements due to the pandemic, Cummings assured donors of one major revelation at the end of his hourlong address: “We are here for our community. We will be here for our community. We will stay open.”
Stay informed with the Center’s fight against COVID-19 at lalgbtcenter.org/updates.