A Health Department employee walks along the exterior of the Ronald R. Arias Health Equity Center at Houghton Park in North Long Beach Friday, May 13, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Even in its infancy, the Ronald R. Arias Health Equity Center is providing critical economic and social services to North Long Beach residents.

After over a year of renovations, the center opened last month at 6335 Myrtle Ave., next door to the Doris Topsy-Elvord Community Center at Houghton Park. The equity center was originally known as the Center For Family And Youth, a space mainly used for early childhood education. The center has now broadened its efforts to include more resources that families need.

Featuring an open-space concept with a large community training room, the equity center has two conference rooms as well as two outdoor patios.

The center has been open for a month but remains accessible by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety restrictions. But programs and partnerships are already active for the public to take advantage of.

The center currently serves as a hub for the Community Impact Division of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services. Launched in 2018, the division aims to improve racial equity in public health and quality of life by providing economic and social services to underserved communities.

“Programming at the [equity center] is family centered and focused on a two-generational approach to uplift families and strengthen their social and economic mobility,” health department spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein said via email.

One of those services is the city’s Fundamentals of Fatherhood program, which launched in 2016 as part of a federal initiative. The program consists of 10 weekly sessions with a life coach meant to help fathers with child bonding, co-parenting and economic stability and mobility.

Employment assistance services through the city’s Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network are also being hosted at the center. Rice Epstein said this is a particularly critical need given the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“This represents the city’s commitment to equity by bringing services directly into the communities most impacted by COVID-19,” Rice Epstein said.

For families in more dire circumstances, the center also hosts a Family Preservation Program for those whose children are at risk to be taken for out-of-home care. Families that are part of the program are assigned a case manager, who conducts weekly in-home visits.

The case manager will also guide family members to services provided by the program meant to help deal with underlying issues, including parenting classes and support groups, youth groups, services for LGBTQ youth, counseling, job training and mental health services.

Medical services are also provided at the center, including family planning, and services related to HIV and TB. Having this wide range of services stays true to the city’s overall philosophy not only for the center, but its approach toward assisting families in violence-stricken and impoverished areas as a whole.

“The intersection of youth development, violence prevention and strengthening families … requires an intersectional approach,” Rice Epstein said. ”It requires looking at prevention and early intervention in people’s lives by providing them with the necessary resources for them to achieve their potential.”

The city is planning to expand programming in the coming months, including increased focus on younger people. The Futures First Program targets “opportunity youth,” which are defined as being between the ages of 16 and 24 that are entirely disconnected from school and work. The program will help those interested in continuing their education or reentering the workforce.

They are also looking to expand the Long Beach Activating Safe Communities initiative into North Long Beach using the center as a base. The program strives to prevent crime by using a community-based organization to send “interventionalists,” who work with police to quell community violence through outreach and other forms of intervention.

For more information on the center and its programs, call the center directly at 562-570-3300.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.