by Finn Black
Since GMHC began offering opt-out HIV testing in Fall 2016, the HIV Prevention Services section (HPS) has moved outside of the clinic and expanded its outreach program. Our goal is to fill the gaps in outreach testing that were left when Berkeley Builds Capacity ended in 2015 and to better reach those communities most impacted by HIV. HPS has expanded our scope of services to include rapid Hepatitis C testing and vaccination. In the past year, we’ve been engaged in several collaborative health outreach programs.
Response to the Hepatitis A Outbreaks in California:
In July 2017, outbreaks of Hepatitis A occurred in homeless communities in San Diego and Los Angeles and eventually spread as far north as Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. HPS advocated for a local mass vaccination campaign in Alameda County. Initially, there was no plan to provide HAV vaccine to the homeless communities in Alameda County due to a nationwide vaccine shortage. In collaboration with NEED (Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution), HPS spent 4 months calling and e-mailing state and local health departments, community-based organizations, and pharmaceutical companies before we finally obtained vaccine. HPS and NEED launched our collaborative vaccination campaign on Thanksgiving morning 2017 in homeless encampments in Berkeley and were eventually joined in the field by members of HepTEV and GMHC (who provided the vaccine at Steamworks). We vaccinated homeless folks in tents, under bridges, at the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter (which we visited every Wednesday night for 6 months), at the Suitcase Clinics, and at local syringe exchange sites. We were in the field in the early morning and late at night to reach a wide range of populations. Many of the individuals we reached had no previous engagement with the Berkeley Free Clinic or other medical providers and a relatively large proportion were living with HIV and/or hepatitis C. Our outreaches at the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter were held in collaboration with Medical Section, HepTEV, Saturday Services, IRC, and Certified Enrollment Counseling, which allowed us to provide STI, HIV, and HCV screening along with wound care and benefits navigation. As a result of our vaccination program, about 140 homeless people were vaccinated against hepatitis A.
Expanded Outreach Shifts:
In addition to our vaccination campaign, HPS is now partnering with several local community-based organizations to provide HIV and HCV testing and HAV and flu vaccination. As part of our effort to encourage cross-sectional collaboration and collectivity, HPS and HepTEV are starting to staff outreach shifts jointly and all HPS outreach shifts are open to any BFC volunteer. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to tag along. There are our current outreach projects:
HPS has partnered with Suitcase Clinic to provide HIV and HCV testing and vaccination services. We currently visit the General and Queer/Trans/Youth clinics and will be expanding to the Womxn’s Clinic in October and we’re hoping to have Saturday Services start joining us at these sites to provide asymptomatic STI screenings.
We are also partnering with the Grant Advent Church in Fruitvale to conduct bimonthly medical outreach in major homeless encampments in East Oakland. These are all-BFC outreach events that can include whatever medical services people are willing and able to provide. At our last event at The Village on E. 12th St, clinic members provided HIV/HCV testing, vaccination, derm assessments, and foot washing.
HPS is working to support sex workers by attending protests, conducting political advocacy, and providing safer sex and medical supplies to folks engaged in sex work. In these efforts, we are taking direction from leaders in the sex worker community and, depending on what is asked of us, we may be providing logistical support and/or medical outreach services in the future.
Other Outreach Updates:
HPS has a mobile field clinic that the entire BFC can use. If you section wishes to conduct outreach but is low on van drivers, feel free to use our mobile field clinic. The kit consists of a handmade geodesic dome tent (about 6 feet tall by 12 feet wide), solar powered ambient and spot lighting, and collapsible furniture. We’ve been using this mobile clinic to provide services in homeless encampments and parking lots.
In response to the increase in right-wing violence in our community, BFC members have been attending protests to support anti-fascist activists. During these protests, we have responded to head wounds, concussions, fractures, and chemical injuries. To encourage more BFC members to get involved in providing emergency medical support to social movements, we will be hosting a street medic training in September.
Also in September, BFC will be conducting community outreach and fundraising at the New Parkway Theater during Karma Cinema. This event will occur each Wednesday evening in September. The New Parkway Theater will donate 20% of their movie proceeds to BFC and tickets are pay-what-you-want to encourage folks to donate extra. BFC members will be tabling at the theater to spread the word about the clinic and sell merchandise.
Coming Soon: In October, HPS plans to launch a plan to bring back the Hotties of Harm Reduction calendar! We’re hoping to have this calendar out in time for the BFC’s 50th anniversary. If you want to get involved by modeling, shooting photos, or doing print layout, contact Finn at email@example.com