BY JULIA NGUYEN | May 13, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated many people during the shelter-at-home period and beyond, creating a distance in connection and community for an overwhelming two years. For many that isolation has led to challenges with mental health. Organizations like Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF), which serves the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or LGBTQ+ identifying community, as well as those impacted by HIV in Santa Barbara County, have been on the frontline of providing critical services throughout this time.
Since 1976, PPF has supported the LGBTQ+ community through culturally relevant programs and services that address the specific needs of the community. Over time, those services have included Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling programs, HIV and Hepatitis C education and prevention, peer support for youth and older adults, social programming, education and training for community partners, and mental health counseling.
PPF is the County’s only syringe exchange program. They also distribute Narcan and fentanyl strips as part of their opioid response programs.
As a community-centered organization, PPF is uniquely connected to the programs they provide and the people they serve.
“LGBTQ+ people are amazing, creative, and resilient. Unfortunately, we also have a harder time when you look at negative, social, and mental health outcomes,” said Kristin Flickinger, Executive Director of PPF. “If you add in other things like race, age, and other marginalized identities, it becomes even worse. During the pandemic, we’ve seen that, across the board, everyone is having a harder time, so mental health issues are up for everybody, drug use is up for everybody. In the LGBTQ+ community, those things are even harder.”
While many of PPF’s in-person community events and services were halted during the past two years to prioritize public health and safety standards recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, PPF continued to provide counseling through teletherapy, online peer-support groups, virtual training, and even continued its opioid response services in-person.
“Across the county, last year alone, we exchanged a quarter of a million needles,” said Kristin. “It is important to work in stopping bloodborne diseases and providing a sense of dignity for our neighbors who use drugs.”
PPF’s mission as an organization committed to the wellness of our community, aligns with the Santa Barbara Foundation who provided the organization many grants including SBF’s Tri-Counties Blood Bank Fund which helped enhance PPF’s HIV Education and Prevention and their syringe exchange program. SBF’s Small Capacity Building Grant provided support to PPF’s mental health counseling program and allowed PPF to purchase a fleet of laptops for their counselors to provide teletherapy to clients.
Kristin joined PPF back in July of 2020 as the pandemic reached Santa Barbara County and saw the increasing need for support in mental health and opioid response services for the LGBTQ+ community. She and the PPF team worked to expand their behavioral health services.
“It is important for us to be there and continue providing our services that we have always provided, and it was also important to recognize the increase in need in our community and to increase our service provision,” said Kristin. “The Santa Barbara Foundation has been an excellent partner in that work.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and the community re-engages with in-person events, PPF is bringing back events and connectivity for the community.
“These events provide access to spaces,” said Tyson Halseth, the Development Director for PPF. “Santa Barbara County is a small town, so we don’t have big LGBTQ+ neighborhoods, a lot of the people in the community look to us to create that. These are community programs. They are there to bring people together.”
“The more people are connected; it helps their mental health. If it helps their mental health, it is likely to help prevent other behavioral health issues that lead to abuse of drugs and potential overdosing,” said Kristin. “The Pride Festival is our largest social connection program. People might think of it as a party or a fundraising event. It’s a social justice, community outreach, and advocacy program.”
Pride is known worldwide to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and honor its past. The celebration commemorates historical protests and uprisings, including the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, led by Trans and gender-nonconfirming people, including people of color, people experiencing homelessness, and sex workers. Those uprisings galvanized an already active movement for LGBTQ+ rights. The Pacific Pride Festival is a free celebration and will be held in August of 2022. The community-at-large is invited to attend.
To learn more about the Pacific Pride Foundation, visit pacificpridefoundation.org.