Central City Concern

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

To Know We're Not Alone

Jun 18, 2015

“We read to know we’re not alone.”

For many book lovers, this quote from author and theologian C.S. Lewis captures their connection to the written word. Books transport us to far-off places and far-away times. They stretch our imaginations. They reaffirm and challenge us. Books remind us that we are all a part of a big, beautiful world.

For Anne Arthur, a health educator at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic (OTC), Lewis’s sentiment has led to a lifelong love affair with books.

Anne says, “I love to read. It’s such an important part of my life. I think it’s such a valuable thing.”

Her belief that books provide an intimate and necessary connection to the world also inspired her to reach out to patients of the Old Town Clinic in a unique way: a lending library accessible to all OTC patients.

We caught up with Anne to learn more about this wonderful project.

First off, what do you do as a health educator at the Old Town Clinic?
I provide brief interventions around drug and alcohol use using motivational interviewing. I check in with patients about where they are with drug and alcohol use. If they want resources or education around reduction or quitting, I help transition them to a counselor.

I also do work with a smoking cessation program. I do a lot of one-on-one quit plans with our patients. Most patients are pretty open to talking about these things and making changes. We’re seeing people quit and reduce over time!

How does the lending library work?
There’s a sign posted on the library that explains how it works. The sign asks that patients not take more than one book per week, and most patients have been really respectful of that expectation. Once they’ve taken a book and have read it, they can keep it or return it – it’s up to them.

A lot of people do bring the books back, but I’m glad the ones that don’t come back are out there being used.

Where did the idea for the lending library originate?
My office is located right around the corner from the 2nd floor Old Town Clinic waiting room. Sometimes, patients are experiencing a lot of stressors and it’s understandably brought into the waiting room with them. Initially, my thought was that having books to ready might help to make the waiting room a calmer place for everyone.

Also, for people who are living on the streets or maybe getting housing for first time, I think books can be a really valuable thing to take us out of our own situation, to imagine ourselves in other situations… escapism in a good way.

Some of our patients are getting housing for the first time in a long time. I really like the idea that they can have a few books that become their own to help make their space more of a home. Or they can pass along the book to a friend.

What kind of books are available?
I want to make sure that there are books of all kinds: fiction and non-fiction, political, theological, humor and cartoon books – everything. There’s also larger coffee table books that are photo-centric for patients with lower literacy or for patients who don’t enjoy reading as much.

I noticed that a lot of patients love National Geographic. I also noticed that self-helps books tend to go quickly, which is understandable when many of our patients have experienced trauma or are looking to gain healthier habits.

What do you think the lending library means to Old Town Clinic patients?
I would hope that it symbolizes that our clinic goes above and beyond basic healthcare. And of course, the lending library isn’t the only thing that does that. So much of what we do at CCC and the Old Town Clinic is really that humanity piece: we acknowledge and embrace our patients’ humanity.

I hope that this library makes the clinic a warmer and friendlier place. Other staff members have told me that patients have said that they really appreciate it and it makes them feel valued and respected to have that available.

The lending library is also a way to honor their trust in us at the clinic by showing them in other ways that we trust them back – from the rules of the lending library, to trusting them to pick books that are right for them.

What does the lending library mean to you?
I didn’t realize all the benefits of the library. Like I said, I originally thought it might help keep the lending library just a little calmer.

But I’ve gotten so much out of it – I recognize all the benefits, but I feel so happy. Sometimes I walk through the waiting room and seven out of the 10 patients waiting will have a book or a magazine. We also have a kids’ table in the waiting room if someone’s waiting for mom or dad, there are some children’s books. I walked through the other day and a mom was reading a book in Spanish to her child.

Have there been other benefits that have surprised you?
Yes! At the clinic, we have literature towers with handouts for patients. They intentionally have a lot of photographs and are written to meet the needs of people with low literacy (using simpler sentences and language). They have information about diabetes, pre-diabetes, exercise and eating, transgender resources, domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse – a lot of health information and some community-based resources patients might want.

I feel like the lending library works really well in concert with this literature. On one hand, the literature is very concrete and specific to their health and what their immediate health needs might be. After they pick up or read that literature, they can go find a book from the library. It’s a nice blend. It’s great to see patients who grab several handouts that pertain to their health but then also grab a book.

Many patients have started asking if they can donate books or magazines to the clinic. One patient said to me, “This clinic has done so much for me, and I don’t have a lot of money, but I’d love to donate some books as a way to give back.” What a feeling it was to hear that.

• • •

If you are interested in donating books to Old Town Clinic’s lending library, feel free to contact Anne directly at anne.arthur@ccconcern.org. If you are interested in making other types of in-kind donations, please contact CCC’s donor services manager at catharine.hunter@ccconcern.org

Moving In and Moving Forward: Gratitude for a Caring Community

Jun 05, 2015

A selection of thank you notes new residents of Central City Concern housing have written after receiving their move-in kit. These kits, which include a number of household and kitchen basics, are funded by the generous donations of Portland-based Airbnb hosts and Airbnb.

In December of 2014, Airbnb invited Portland-based hosts to join in a new way of investing in their community. Through a tool on Airbnb’s website, local hosts are now able to donate a percentage of their hosting income to Central City Concern; and Airbnb has pledged to match up to $125,000. The money raised so far has funded 325 move-in kits for new CCC clients moving into our supportive housing programs. Each kit contains household supplies like pots, dishes, linens, and pillows: things essential to creating a sense of stability and a sense of home.

We spoke with several new CCC residents who received move-in kits, and it’s clear how much of an impact this act of caring from the community has had on them.

Regina, 42, has been homeless for much of the last 10 years. Recently released from prison, she wanted a clean and sober place to rebuild her life. She arrived at Central City Concern’s housing with a small bag of clothing. The Resident Services Coordinator for the building gave Regina an Airbnb move-in kit a few days later. “I felt like someone actually cared about me,” said Regina. “Everything in the kit was very useful. I am currently working on maintaining my recovery and becoming a better, more responsible person.

“It is very caring and compassionate and it makes a big difference in our lives.”

• • •

Sacaria found himself homeless for the first time this year. He entered Central City Concern’s clean and sober housing from another transitional housing building in Portland. He had some clothing and a small TV upon arriving. He was surprised to find the move-in kit in his room when he opened the door. “It made me feel like this was going to really be my new home.” He has used everything in the kit but particularly valued having pots and pans to cook with. A past lifetime union employee, his goal is to return to the workforce.

“This helps so many people. Thank you.”

• • • 

Though she’s only 30 years old, Patricia, has had about five periods of homelessness over the last 10 years. She came to Central City Concern housing after completing an in-patient drug treatment program. She arrived at CCC housing with some clothing, a handful of paperwork, and not much else. One of her new neighbors in the apartment building saw that she did not even have a fork to eat with. Patricia says she was reluctant to ask for such necessities. She was “relieved, hopeful and shocked” when staff brought the Airbnb move-in kit to her door. She has found every item in the kit of use and was particularly pleased to find laundry and dish soap included.

“Thank you and please know these are being used and are very helpful. I hope to be able to return the favor and help others in need someday.”

• • •

John, age 38, has experienced 15 periods of homelessness over the past 10 years. Central City Concern considers him to be “chronically homeless.” He came to CCC housing for an employment and recovery program. All he arrived with was some clothing and hygiene items. He was “relieved and grateful” when his case manager gave him an Airbnb move-in kit. Of all the items in the kit, his favorite was the clean, new towel. John’s goals are to become employed, stay focused on his recovery and maybe return to culinary school.

“Thank you for help and support. I would like to do the same for someone at some point. It’s a good program and I’m grateful to be here.”

• • •

Bryan, age 42, was referred to Central City Concern housing by his parole officer and he has been homeless three times over the past 10 years. When he arrived, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and the proper paperwork to check into his room. The Airbnb move-in kit was waiting for him upon arrival. “Receiving the move-in basket helped me feel welcome. It relieved some of the stress I had about getting day-to-day items that I knew I would need.” His most valued item from the kit is his pillow.

“Receiving this basket when I walked into my room for the first time gave me hope about my future and about society willing to give me a chance and some support in reaching my goals.”

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May Edition

May 28, 2015

Our Monthly Volunteer Spotlight returns after taking the month of April off to focus on our National Volunteer Week blog series! This month, meet Joe O’Sullivan, who is a first-of-his-kind volunteer. Read on to learn more about his role and his journey with Central City Concern!

• • •

Name: Joe O’Sullivan

Position: Volunteer Bloodborne Pathogen Trainer. Joe’s main duty is to lead and facilitate an hour-long bloodborne pathogen training to groups of CCC employees. The bloodborne pathogen training is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirement for all employees who have the potential to be exposed to any bloodborne pathogen or potentially infectious materials over the course of their employment.

What drew you to CCC and this volunteer opportunity?
I finished college about a year ago and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I was looking around at different things. I reflected on the past four years of my life – about how I’d been sort of self-absorbed and self-centered in a way. I was focusing on myself and my grades and close family and friends and that was my life pretty much. And where I went to school, there’s a big emphasis on advocacy and such, but I felt a bit isolated from the city and I didn’t really know much of anything about the big issues.

So when I got out I really wanted to do something in the city and give back whatever I could. I started volunteering around town at other similar organizations. I really liked it and so I just kept looking for more opportunities.

Had you heard about CCC before?
Well, I majored in biology and psychology in college and I had a couple classes that mentioned CCC. One of the classes was about mental health and I heard about the mental health services offered here. And I think another class was an “Addiction and the Brain” course in which they talked about some of the organizations that work with people living with addiction.

I also have a few friends who work here, too, so I’d heard about CCC through them off and on. So I looked into CCC and luckily at that time there was a position that was a good fit for me.

What have you enjoyed about volunteering?
I’ve really liked being the bloodborne pathogens trainer. And in some ways I’ve enjoyed it because on top of teaching the class, I really like the conversations I have with people before and after the class. I didn’t expect that, but that’s been the best part.

Since I haven’t done it for a whole year yet [note: the bloodborne pathogen training is a yearly requirement], every person who’s come through the class has been new to me. It’s usually people who are just starting their job at CCC so that makes it really interesting.

All types of employees take the class: from someone who just joined Clean & Safe to someone doing mentoring to doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – it’s everyone all together. I’ve had a great time meeting people and I feel like I’ve met a good amount of staff – maybe up to a couple hundred I think!

In the beginning of the class, I usually ask people how long they’ve been here and what department or program they’re in and so I’ve met people from all over. That’s been really fun.

Are there any conversations that stick out to you?
It was my first day volunteering, my first class. I was talking with someone before the class because they were the first person there. He mentioned how he was homeless before he accessed CCC housing, and now here he is as an employee of Clean & Safe. He said that specifically that "Central City Concern had saved” him. That meant a lot. I thought I was just coming in and teaching bloodborne pathogens, but all of a sudden I’m having conversations like that – that was pretty incredible.

Oddly, I’ve met a lot of people who used to work at CCC for maybe a few years, left for a different job elsewhere, but then have come back. And everyone I’ve talked to in that category always says that they don’t know what it is, but it’s a certain feeling of, like, just knowing you’re doing a good thing here.

Interestingly – it’s been a couple people who have said this – that it’s this “inside feeling” knowing that you’re doing a good thing. Maybe they left for a job that paid more, but at the end of the day they didn’t get that feeling when they left work each day.

I also remember someone saying that hypothetically in every job, you’re doing something good for someone. But there’s something different about working for a place like CCC where you leave at the end of the day knowing that you’ve helped someone in your neighborhood or city.

How has volunteering figured into your professional goals?
Let’s see. I also volunteer at an HIV testing center, so I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are in situations with a lot of stigma and a lot of discrimination. That’s been eye-opening because I’ve always read and heard about it, but in talking with someone face to face, you get a whole different perspective.

I also work in an emergency department where we see a lot of people experience mental illness, so I hear from them.  And I’ve also worked at a down syndrome clinic so I’ve heard from the families there and the types of discrimination they and their children have dealt with. And of course in volunteering here, I get to interact with people who have lived on the streets at some point and hear about their experience with that, as well as what they’ve gone through in overcoming that.

I feel hearing all of those perspectives and stories has been a huge influence on me in deciding what I want to do with my life. I’ve decided that I want to do what I can to tackle the problem through the lens of healthcare: providing excellent, equitable healthcare for everyone regardless of their position or background.

Especially here at CCC, the people I’ve met have been a huge influence on that decision. Like I said, a year ago, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare but I didn’t know exactly what. But now, I have a much more solid idea of how I want to be a part of that. That’s why I took the MCAT and am planning on applying to med school.

What did you expect out of this volunteer role before your first day?
The hardest part going in was that the the ”students” in the class are all over the place in terms of knowledge about bloodborne pathogens: you’ll get some people who have no idea (no biology training at all), but you’ll also have a physician in there, so it’s really hard to tailor the class.

I remember going in and being really nervous about that. But it’s all worked out so far. It took a few classes to get used to it.

Has your understanding or perspective about CCC changed since you started?
I had no idea how big Central City Concern was or how old it was. The other thing I think is pretty remarkable is finding out that more than 40% of employees identify as being in recovery – I thought that was unbelievable.

And after being around the employees and getting more familiar with the programs, I feel like CCC goes one step further – providing housing and healthcare, but also employment which I think is the missing step in a lot of places. I’ve met so many people from the class who will say that I was on the streets and now I have this job.

What would you say to someone who was on the fence about volunteering?
Well, I think everyone should volunteer. We’re social creatures and I think something in us makes us want to help each other. Everyone wants to be a part of something.

The feeling you get when helping someone else is like no other. I think everyone should give back to the community. Having the opportunity to give back even just a tiny bit has been a great experience and it’s also opened the doors to help me realize what I want to do with my life.

• • • 

We feel lucky and thankful to have a volunteer like Joe whose expertise and enthusiasm is a gigantic help in providing our employees with critical education about bloodborne pathogens! If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, contact CCC’s Volunteer Coordinator at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org

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Volunteer Spotlights

What motivates CCC volunteers? What do they do when they volunteer? Why do they choose to give their time to those we serve? Find out by checking our Monthly Volunteer Spotlight! Learn more »

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