Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness and achieving self-sufficiency.

NHCW Health Care Hero: Sally Swain

Aug 15, 2018

On many nights, Sally Swain would go home from her shift at a local social service agency and think about the people she’d met that day.

She remembered the contours of their faces. She mentally catalogued the things they carried with them. She wondered what behavioral health resources were out there to help them. Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did. Their stories, she says, captivated her.

“These people were absolutely leaving their mark on me.”

Among the people she got to know, she noticed that those having the hardest time remaining engaged with services, or even keeping their spot at a shelter, were almost always folks living with untreated serious mental illness. Her thoughts drifted toward them most often. Soon, her thoughts translated into action.

Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did.

“I started to look into what kinds of jobs help this population and I found that a master’s of social work was the kind of background that would put me in position to do that,” she says.

As the clinical supervisor for one of two Community Outreach Recovery Engagement (CORE) teams at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), Sally puts her concern, passion, and education to work. The CORE team serves adults with major mental illness to help them remain integrated in the community as much as possible. They work with the patients to develop the tools to be active participants in their own lives. Without CORE, these patients would likely be cycling in and out of hospitals, shelters or institutions—much like those whose circumstances nudged Sally into this line of work in the first place.

Sally is often the first person a new CORE client will meet with. Her familiarity with CORE’s patient population—the barriers they face, the services they’ve tried, the goals they have—as well as her gentle Southern charm help her build bridges. Clients learn, many quickly, that she will listen to them, advocate for them, and support them. Some clients who met Sally years ago while she was working at other agencies remember and ask for her by name.

“A lot of times, we’re doing simple tasks that I think give people a chance for greater meaning and connection in their lives,” Sally says. “It can be a lot of fun taking someone to get a haircut or accompanying them to make a phone call.”

Progress—as Sally, her team, and their clients perceive it—isn’t elusive, per se, but it is reimagined beyond typical notions of success. While outcomes are important, the CORE team’s primary aim is to simply be present in the lives of their clients and to support them in any and every way they can.

“In our work, success might be that someone who’s never done mental health treatment before forms one trusting relationship. Maybe it’s someone who’s able to come in and simply ask for what they need,” Sally explains. “At the end of the day, I think that success can be as simple as fostering a relationship between us and the people we’re serving.”

While walking alongside clients opens opportunities to witness and participate in triumphs, it also exposes Sally and her team to disappointments and heartbreak.

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing. I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing,” Sally says. “I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

Even after five years at Central City Concern, and more than a decade working with vulnerable populations, she continues to learn that she shares the weight of her work with those around her as they experience the peaks and valleys of their clients’ lives. Having a team around her reminds her how vital it is for clients to know that the CORE team is ready, able, and present to help.

“Every day I find where my limits end and another person’s capabilities start. We find a way to be in this together. I know I’m not alone in this.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Charlesetta Dobson

Aug 15, 2018

Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program is a shining example of how we tailor our services to meet the unique needs of a population. Imani Center counselors and peer support specialists provide their clients with Afrocentric, trauma-informed approaches to mental health and addictions treatment. It’s a life-changing program that represents the best and most innovative approaches CCC has to offer.

But the work they do—and the dramatic progress their clients make—can quickly unravel without stable, supportive housing.

That’s where Charlesetta Dobson, a housing case manager based in CCC’s Richard Harris building, enters the scene. Part of her case load is devoted to Imani Center clients making the transition into our supportive housing program. To Charlesetta, the link between housing and Imani Center’s health care services is bright as day.

“This housing provides them the stability that gives them a chance to succeed in the health care services they’re engaged in,” she says. “When you have keys here, you have that stability. You’re not having to worry about which doorstep you’re going to sleep in or if someone’s going to go through your stuff.”

“My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it. So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

Charlesetta works closely with the Imani Center to support clients during their delicate first steps on the path of recovery. She meets with incoming residents before they move in, connects them to resources, and holds weekly check-ins with each person to keep them accountable to their treatment plan. She helps tenants connect their Imani Center treatment goals with their housing goals.

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

“The clients know they can always find an empathetic ear and unwavering support in Charlesetta,” says the Imani Center’s director, Linda Hudson. “It’s so clear to clients that she wants so much for them to succeed.”

To clients, Charlesetta is a model of someone who has everything together. She’s both knowledgeable and patient, compassionate and non-judgmental. She admits, however, that she hasn’t always been the person others see today.

Charlesetta grew up surrounded by problematic behaviors. “My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it,” she shares. “So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

While Charlesetta feels fortunate to have avoided substance use, early and constant exposure to related behaviors like stealing derailed her plans. She eventually faced an 18-month sentence for organized retail theft.

“I remember thinking that this is not the plan! That was the point I started to get my life together,” Charlesetta says. “For me it was either 18 months in jail or 18 months to transform my life.”

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

She used the time going back and forth with the courts about her case to enroll in school. She studied hard, built relationships with professors, and committed to becoming part of the solution. She pursued her associate’s degree in alcohol and drug counseling, which led her to CCC as a Letty Owings Center intern.

While the work Charlesetta does with Imani Center clients is professionally satisfying, it also remains deeply personal.

“It’s important for me to help people who look like my mother, who look like my aunties—to be able to give them the resources and opportunities that I feel like my mother didn’t necessarily have access to,” she says. “It’s important for me to be on the other side of everything I saw and had experience in before.”

Charlesetta is living her calling. There are hard days, of course. Seeing residents submit a second positive urine test, which violates the program agreement. Seeing residents leave the program for various reasons. Knowing that she won’t be able to walk alongside their journey, at least for the time being.

But she’s inspired by those “who are working their butts off. The ones taking suggestions, following through with everything,” says Charlesetta. “I get an intense satisfaction when I see someone doing what they’re supposed to do, even if it’s not according to their original plan. Sort of like me.”



NHCW Health Care Hero: Dr. Richard Gil

Aug 14, 2018

Dr. Richard Gil, a primary care physician at Old Town Clinic (OTC), understands that change in the community health setting usually doesn’t come in one fell swoop. It usually doesn’t come in several medium-sized swoops either. He’s happy to see his patients make changes that they’re willing and able to make, small as they may be.

“A lot of our patients are so high risk that when we can avert a crisis, it feels like a victory,” he says.

Richard knows high risk. After all, part of his week is dedicated to being one of the providers on Central City Concern’s (CCC) Summit Team, which works with our most medically fragile patients with the most complex needs. The rest of his week is spent working with one of OTC’s four care teams, which also serves Portland’s homeless and otherwise vulnerable population. Before working in Portland, he trained for his residency in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the country.

“I want to work with folks who nobody else wants to work with and give them good, quality care—care they absolutely deserve.”

Regardless of the team he finds himself working with on any given day, Richard is intent on giving each patient the time and attention he believes they deserve. Often that means letting an appointment run over time so that his patient is able to express all their concerns and anxieties. At other times, it means writing a letter to a specialist to give them helpful background information about a referred patient. It could also mean doing stretches or breathing exercises to ensure that he’s in the right mindset to be the doctor he wants to be for his patients. Richard’s mindfulness doesn’t go unnoticed.

In addition to addressing his patients’ health issues, “he truly listens to [his patients’] stories and tries to understand them as human beings,” a colleague of his says.

Both of Richard’s parents were social workers, each working with a different underserved, overlooked population. He heard often about their work: their frustrations with the system, the dignity of their clients, the little victories that made their work worth it. The passion for helping the people OTC serves—those who have by and large been marginalized and mistreated by the mainstream medical system—is, he says, “sort of baked into me.”

“I want to work with folks who nobody else wants to work with and give them good, quality care—care they absolutely deserve.”

Richard also treats many patients referred to OTC by Puentes, CCC’s culturally responsive substance use disorder and mental health treatment program for Portland’s Spanish-speaking population. Richard’s mother is Puerto Rican, his father Cuban. As a Latino, Spanish-speaking provider, Richard is thrilled to integrate such a direct, personal connection into his practice, especially knowing about the hardships—exposure to violence and racism—his mother endured.

“I love seeing my Spanish-speaking patients, especially those I don’t see often. They know I’m bicultural and bilingual. Knowing that they trust me to listen to them and meet their health needs… that feels awesome.”

As a Latino, Spanish-speaking provider, Richard is thrilled to integrate such a direct, personal connection into his practice, especially knowing about the hardships—exposure to violence and racism—his mother endured.

Despite the relationships he’s made and the progress he’s seen with his patients, Richard admits that his work as a provider isn’t without adversity. “I still have a hard time putting it into words, but I know that the secondary trauma we all feel working here affects me,” he says. “A couple tough interactions with patients or just seeing the tremendous suffering they may go through: that can be really hard.”

He knows how difficult this work can be without support, having had experience being “a lone island providing care.” So he leans on his care team colleagues. “I couldn’t be sustained without everyone else. It’s clearly a team game here and I can’t ask for a better place to work or better people to work with.”

With the support of his teams, Richard thrives in helping his patients move toward their health goals in the face of the trauma and competing priorities that come part and parcel with living outside.

“I love it when I can have a conversation and incorporate a lot of ‘change talk’ to get patients to move from Point A to Point B. That might not amount to really big change right now, but over time, I see it inch them forward,” Richard says with a smile. “I love that part of care.”



Housing

Central City Concern helps people find the stability of home, as well as a new community to support their goals. Our Housing Choice model allows people to choose the kind of housing based on their personal needs. Learn more »

Health and Recovery

Access to integrated primary and behavioral health care is key to successful recovery. CCC offers exceptional, compassionate care to meet patients' primary care, mental health care and substance use disorder treatment needs. Learn more »

Employment

The journey from being homeless to finding a living wage job can be arduous, especially without a guide. CCC's employment programs provide vital supports to those desiring to make progress toward self-sufficiency. Learn more »