(Photos: Cecilia Nowell)

The crowd gathered outside of City Hall this afternoon was excited about more than just a colorful, pink-and-blue bus. Bold lettering across the bus’s side revealed the true purpose of the gathering: “Keith Haring Foundation – Project Street Beat Mobile Health Center.”

Planned Parenthood of New York City cut the ribbon on a new Mobile Health Center today as part of its collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation. Project Street Beat is an HIV prevention, risk reduction, and access-to-care program that serves communities in the Bronx, northern Manhattan, and Brooklyn who might not normally seek care at a brick-and-mortar clinic. Decorated with the art of Keith Haring, the mobile health center shares the Keith Haring Foundation’s commitment to supporting people with HIV/AIDS, and other vulnerable populations.

Inside the brightly decorated bus, the new mobile health center is a full-service health facility with two sound-proof, confidential counseling rooms and an exam room equipped with everything you would usually find at an OB/GYN’s office. The counseling rooms allow Planned Parenthood staff to counsel patients on their financial options and provide confidential HIV testing, while the exam room is fully equipped for STI testing, PrEP counseling, birth control insertion, and other gynecological procedures. All of the Planned Parenthood staff onboard the bus-turned-health-center are trained to provide Narcan.

Planned Parenthood Nurse Practitioner Sarah Zuercher explained that Project Street Beat places special emphasis on counseling patients to make sure, for example, that the birth control option chosen by an adolescent or person experiencing homelessness fits into their life. Staff members also work to connect patients with other resources, like insurance providers or social services.

Representatives from Planned Parenthood, the Keith Haring Foundation, city government, and Planned Parenthood’s local partners spoke at today’s ribbon cutting ceremony.  

Marcella Tillett, vice president of Project Street Beat, described Planned Parenthood’s deepening commitment to neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Washington Heights, and East New York, where the mobile health center will travel. Laura McQuade, president of Planned Parenthood of New York, echoed the sentiment, and emphasized Project Street Beat’s commitment to providing care to people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other underserved communities.

Julia Gruen, executive director of the Keith Haring Foundation, reflected on the devastation of the AIDS crisis and the work that Haring did in the 1980s and 90s to bring art into public spaces. “Keith took art to the people,” she said, and now Planned Parenthood is “taking health services to the people.”

Representatives of communities impacted by Project Street Beat spoke, too. Delores, a representative of the project’s advisory group, acknowledged how it had affected her own life as a recovering addict and how she hoped it would support others, especially teens, in her community. On behalf of Medgar Evars College in Crown Heights, Althea Willie described the importance of accessible care for students transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. And, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and NYC Council Member Robert Cornegy emphasized the role Project Street Beat has played in serving their districts and under-resourced New York communities. “No matter how much money you have, no matter where you live, you should have access to good healthcare,” said Cornegy.

Fifty years after Stonewall, in a year wracked by the Opioid crisis, Project Street Beat’s new mobile health center seems like a venture Keith Haring would have been proud of.