SoCal Club, a part of Men’s Health Foundation, is a community center in South Los Angeles specializing in mental and sexual health services for young people within the BIPOC LGBTQ+ communities. The SoCal Club seeks to reach persons 12-29 years of age and the groups in the area with the highest incidence of new HIV infections.
The SoCal Club has far-reaching goals to also address the social determinates of health such as hunger, transportation, housing and trading one’s body for sustenance, just to name a few. According to Anthony Mills, MD the CEO of the Men’s Health Foundation these social determinates are happening and affect young people in the community. Now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s become much worse.
SoCal Club is a safe-space in the community, in an iconic building that sports a large multi-purpose room where Zumba, Yoga and Walking in Heels classes occur. The center’s design includes a kitchen area where a large center island is planned for cooking classes and education. Clients are assisted with education and help in relation to seeking employment and how to interview for a job. Clothing one might need for an interview may also be available and the center will try its best to assist with those as well. As part of the design, a medical clinic is on site and provides mental and sexual health care, access to HIV testing and treatment, PEP and PrEP.
The look, feel and programming of the center seeks to communicate SoCal Club is a safe space. And when one gets there, hopefully, they will connect to services that enable them to keep healthy.
Adelante: Where did the idea of the SoCal Club come from?
Dr. Mills: We wanted to design a center to respond to the community’s needs. So, we formed a Community Advisory Board comprised of community residents, Black and Brown people, Trans women and Trans men to gather input and ideas. The CAB spoke very honestly about their lives and the things they were struggling with. These young people told us they were hungry and that food insecurity was a huge issue.
“I remember listening to 13 year olds are telling us they were hungry. This is why food became an important part of the So Cal Club. We spent some time working with an organization named Meals in a Backpack to organize this effort. Now young people that come to the center leave with food in their Backpacks and don’t have to worry about what’s to eat at home. They’ll have a meal to hold them over till the next day. We’ve also brought in a nutritionist to talk to the clients about the importance of good nutrition in relation to health.
Adelante: What’s the connection between food insecurity and increased risk of HIV infection?
Dr. Mills: For those needing to trade sex for money, often they are not able to negotiate safer sex practices. This is because getting enough money for food may mean one might do things that put their health at risk for HIV transmission and they may agree to let their guard down and have unprotected sex. So food becomes integral to their risk of acquiring HIV and STDs. If one is hungry or needs a ride home, they may be asking for assistance with Uber, money or rides. All of these things are negotiating points that people use against young people to get them to compromise safe sex practices and puts them at higher risk for HIV infection.
Adelante: What else does/will the SoCal Club offer?
Dr. Mills: We will have a huge kitchen and a huge center island in the kitchen. All handicap accessible. We are planning classes to teach healthy food prep. We will have classes on how to shop for healthy foods in the neighborhoods. It seems there is a liquor store on every block and many are buying their foods at the 99-cent stores. We want to explore community markets and the plan is to have community markets come to the center and bring food in.
Adelante: Were there other inspirations for the SoCal Club?
Dr. Mills: I’ve told this story a thousand times. I’m from Columbia, South Carolina. There, 50% of people living with HIV are not engaged in care. Why? It’s not because there are not wonderful medical facilities, but there is not a single place where a gay man can go and talk openly without fear of stigma regarding what they do. There’s not a place for a Transgender woman to talk opening about who she is and what she is engaged in.
Dr. Mills: We wanted SoCal Club to be a safe place because it is the doorway into care. It is the portal through which people will come and find themselves in a safe space. And because we provide medical care within the confines of that same space, we can provide their medical care when they need it and when they want it.
Even the name So Cal Club has the cache of a special place, one where clients are members, a protected place, private, a safe space, a community space and hopefully a place where its younger clients will avail themselves of needed health care services. Congratulations to all involved at the SoCal Club.
Note: SoCal Club is located at 8601 S. Broadway in South Los Angeles. Due to Covid-19, the clinic is open for urgent STI & HIV testing and treatment, PrEP and PEP access on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. -5 p.m. If you believe you were recently exposed to HIV within the past 72 hours, please call them at 323-905-5675 or after hours at 310-860-5675.