Central City Concern

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

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

Just last month, Central City Concern launched the Flip the Script program with the goal of providing housing, cultural peer support, and employment specialists to support African Americans’ reentry into the community when leaving a criminal justice program. Without employment or housing, African Americans have a 36 percent chance of re-entering the system; addressing those pitfalls was crucial to their success.

But before the conversations around solutions could begin, CCC needed to identify the presenting issues, snags, and concerns facing this population.

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

Although much of his work was behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the critical role MJ played in laying the foundation for the Flip the Script program was imperative to the successful launch of Flip the Script. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with MJ and ask him about the groundwork it took to assist in getting this program rolled out.

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Name and Volunteer Position: Michael Jones but I go by MJ.

And my volunteer proposition to you all was “Hey, if you’ve got some data, I would love to volunteer to analyze it.”

Because I thought you can do two things with that. I thought, one, we could help improve the program wherever that data came from so we can find some areas for improvement. And two, I thought this data could help you all tell your story about how you’re driving the impact in the community.

I do believe if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. But I also really know that data can close deals.

It sounds like our Employment Access Center was able to take you up on your offer, specifically for their Flip the Script Program.
Coming from a business background it’s all about ROI—the return on investment—and when I thought about it you guys have probably the largest ROI in the history of the world. Seriously. If you look at what does it cost to incarcerate a person versus what does it cost when a person is a productive member of society? That’s sort of the ROI that I see.

So with that I started to dig in, and with Freda [Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services), was given a project to go run with. Once I got in, like with every large organization, it turned out to be kind of complicated. We were sort at the classic starting point of not having all of the data. CCC had some data based on where individuals were housed with intake and exit interviews, but the data actually started back with the Department of Corrections.

And then as we started to dig further, it goes into the Department of Justice. I thought it was pretty amazing in the early stages of this project that Freda was able to wrangle those folks to come and get everyone in the same room. We had people driving up from Salem, from DOJ and DCJ, and we spent some time on a whiteboard and it did turn out to be very complicated. I sketched it all out and said well they have this piece and they have this piece but how do we marry those together.

It was pretty great and they sort of rallied around that this was a good idea. We did really need to keep people’s privacy and security in mind so we did talk about the cleaning of the data so it’s non-identifiable. But gosh, after a couple of months, everybody provided all of the bits and we were able to paste it together and basically what we had was 1,000 records and those represented 1,000 people.

That sounds like quite a bit of collaboration and work! Do you feel like the results were well-received?
I feel like what I presented to your team, people were really excited. They were like, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen the data presented in this way. We’ve never seen this much data. We’ve never heard the story told on top of it and we’ve always been looking at a small piece.” It really opened their eyes to some really healthy discussion and debate around the causation of recidivism and then a lot of thinking on how to improve it.

Recidivism is such a common thread for so many. What were some of the causes you discovered?
For instance one of the top reasons for recidivism is an individual, or a sex offender, not registering their location. But when you think about it, well, if you don’t have a home it’s kind of hard to register your location.

We uncovered some things that seem a little counterintuitive. Like how to some degree people would be less likely to recidivate if they stayed in a shelter, or if they even lived on the street, than if they went to live with friends. And that group that said they lived with friends had an incredibly high recidivism rate. But when you think about it, it makes total sense because that’s getting back to your bad habits. And so I think that helped really enlighten things.

And MJ, what made you want to get involved with Central City Concern in the first place?
I was motivated because of the homelessness situation that we’ve seen unfold in the past three years and I’m not one to just sit on the sidelines. I like to take action so I decided I wanted to volunteer locally and that seemed to be the biggest problem I could see locally.

And I was impressed [with Central City Concern]. There’s a huge number of organizations that are helping homeless populations in a variety of ways, but I really liked CCC because you guys focused on the health angle, the employment angle, and the housing angle and so I saw that as more sustainable. I guess I saw that as teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish.

And I love the social enterprise angle because I think that gives people real world work experience and it gives people the skills they need but it’s actually a real company and it’s about generating revenue. So I’m wild about that. We’re not just throwing cash at people but we’re teaching them life skills. It’s a bigger organization than I thought and I’d say it’s more innovative.

Is there anything you would think about doing differently if you volunteered again?
I loved it but in hindsight I was thinking my flaw in that volunteering opportunity was that these people were still numbers. And I think it would be good for me to see them as people and not numbers. And so I think being critical of my own volunteer experience, it was a very clinical and analytic sort of play where I think I could build more empathy if I got closer to the people rather than spreadsheets of numbers. Which is to say I have a couple of other things I want to work on, volunteering things, but that thinking has helped me inform my future strategy around my volunteering opportunities and wanting to be a little bit closer to it.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2017 Edition

Feb 28, 2017

When first sitting down to interview one of Central City Concern’s favorite administrative volunteers, Maureen, for February’s Volunteer Spotlight, it quickly became apparent that this chat was going to be unlike many before. Maureen openly shared her story regarding her lived experience on the streets, struggles with addiction, past criminality, and why these things motivate her to simply “lend a helping hand” today. Whether it is making the gravy (from scratch) for one of our residential community Thanksgiving meals or entering survey data regarding Old Town Clinic patient satisfaction, Maureen’s intimate connection with the services that CCC provides resonates strongly in each moment she is able to spend with us.

Our normal Q&A format couldn't do Maureen’s candor and humility justice, so for this Volunteer Spotlight we chose a small handful of unprompted quotes to share. Maureen’s unique perspective on homelessness, as well as CCC services, is tremendously inspiring and we hope you enjoy hearing from Maureen as much as we did.

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“Well, how can you help another person? You know, I didn’t use to tell my story. I used to be ashamed of it. I used to be ashamed to say that I was a prostitute or I was a heroin addict or, you know, I was with pimps and I turned tricks and all of that stuff. But now, it’s a part of the strength that I have—the fact that I made it through alive.”

“I often hear people say, ‘I love living on the streets,’ but boy if you give them a hot shower and a clean pair of clothes and a room to sleep in, they’re ecstatic. But they tell themselves that because it makes it easier to accept their circumstances.”

“I want to always offer my conditioning of what I’ve been through to other people and say: it looks really bad right now, you are at the bottom, but there is a way for you to dig yourself out of this.”

“And so the whole point I guess that I’m trying to get to is that your organization not only represents me, but it represents me today.”

“When I started volunteering here I kept focusing on this as like my next stair step, you know? I’d done all of this other stuff with no contentment. Just like, working. It’s just a job. I’m addicted to helping people. I like giving up my time and energy more than I like getting paid to do stuff and it’s just a thing with me. You’re put here for a purpose and you can’t find it if you’re in the office working. It’s not going to be a monetary thing. It’s going to be something you’re giving to people to make them delighted, to make them feel happy, and so that’s what I am doing.”

“If your organization continues to do what it’s doing we can make sure that this slows down. Homelessness is an epidemic right now and it breaks my heart because of the inhumanity of it. The ignorance of it. When you see someone sleeping on the street and all you do is step over them instead of checking to see if they’re alive, something has to change in our society to make people see past a person’s dirt and their poverty because in today’s world we’re all just a step away from being there.”

“It was a great experience to see other people that really cared, that don’t do things just because. They’re there, they’re engaged, they’re asking questions, and they’re talking to people instead of at them. I got to know quickly some of people’s circumstances and I felt that they were in good hands. I thought they were in great hands with CCC.“

“Because I started from the street and I had nothing. A pair of high heels, a big purse with all of my drug paraphernalia, and the clothes on my back and I don’t have much more than I had then, monetarily. But spiritually I’ve gained a bucket load, a truck load, or whatever’s so big that I can’t fill it. And you guys allow me to continue to feel big like that. To feel important. I like to feel big and important and it doesn’t take money to do that, it just takes doing.”

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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Empowerment by Design: CCC Celebrates Black History Month & the Imani Center

Feb 23, 2017

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern!

We are thankful for occasions like Black History Month to intentionally set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the richness and depth of Black history and culture.

As an agency, we also aim to daily honor the strength, resilience, creativity, and joy that are core to the African American experience. A primary way we do that is through CCC’s Imani Center program, which offers culturally specific and responsive outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, peer support, and case management.

Based out of the historic Golden West Hotel building—itself a significant part of Portland’s Black history—the Imani Center is a prime example of a community using knowledge of its members’ histories and needs to help its own.

According to Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services, Black clients of mainstream mental health and addiction treatment programs often face unique barriers to their recovery success. “When African American clients come in with different experiences and different perspectives and they try to fit the client into that [mainstream treatment] curriculum, there’s often some tension there.”

But at the Imani Center, we provide Afrocentric services. All mental health and addiction counselors, as well as the peer support specialists, identify as African American; several have longstanding ties to the Portland area. Clients can feel like they are in a safe place. Here, they can talk about the impact of racism and discrimination knowing the staff understand firsthand what they’re talking about because of the staff’s collective experience.

“We know how it goes and we know how it feels,” Linda says. “We the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are. We can share with clients how they might be able to navigate [their recovery] and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.” There is an understanding that the Imani Center's services explore the meaning of being Black in America and how it impacts one’s recovery. There is also an understanding that the Black self is deeply entrenched with the collective experience. (Bassey, 2007)

During the listening and planning process that preceded the Imani Center, CCC heard the African American community say that they valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Today, between Imani Center’s eight-person staff, there are three Masters of Social Work degrees, three Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling credentials, three Certified Recovery Mentor credentials, and three Qualified Mental Health Professional designations. While those qualifications are impressive, Linda says that they send a message. “We need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving.”

So while innovative counseling approaches and a full slate of group sessions drive much of the change that Imani Center clients see in themselves, much of their success comes from seeing themselves reflected in the make-up of the staff. This empowerment is by design. Addiction and mental health recovery, as well as educational and professional achievements, seem so much more possible when one can readily picture themselves in the shoes of an Imani staff member who has walked that path ahead of them.

Each day, the Imani staff reaches back to pull other members of the Portland African American community up with them. They understand what their clients are experiencing; now, they’re committed to helping their clients experience the empowering freedom that comes along with recovery.

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The Imani Center is accepting new clients. If you know someone who may benefit from talking with a counselor who will listen on a regular basis and offer compassionate support, please pass on this information about the Imani Center.

Anyone can schedule an eligibility screening by contacting the Imani Center at 503-226-4060 or Imanicenter@ccconcern.org.



Housing is Health

Six health care organizations will invest $21.5 million in a partnership with CCC as a response to Portland’s affordable housing, homelessness, and health care challenges. Learn more »

We Are Family 2017

Join Central City Concern on May 2 for an evening celebrating families through story and music to benefit our Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs. Reserve your tickets now! Learn more »

Recruiting a New Leader

With the completion of a leadership profile, CCC is proud to announce that recruitment for a new President & CEO to step in for outgoing executive director Ed Blackburn has begun. Learn more »