Tough Love

May 30, 2018

Last month, we proudly shared the story of Kassy, whose newborn son's medical emergency while she was living at Central City Concern's Letty Owings Center became the turning point for her to take her recovery and her future with her son seriously. We debuted our video about her at our We Are Family fundraiser in early May, and she continues make progress in her schooling to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

But as many will attest, the pain and destruction from addictive behaviors nearly always extend beyond the individual. Family and loved ones get hurt, too. They're often put in impossible situations. Kristi, Kassy's sister, graciously shares what Kassy's journey—from her rocky childhood to her present-day successes—looked like from the other side.

• • •

The phone call came while I was in Disneyland:

“Yes, this is Kristi,” I answered.

“I don’t know what’s going on in your apartment but you better get home now!” said the voice on the other end, frantic and angry.

I listened in horror.

“They’re trashing the place and dropping bottles from your balcony, trying to hit people!”

I flew back the next day. My home was ransacked, almost everything either broken or stolen. I begged not to be evicted.

She did it again—my sister Kassy.

Kassy and I are four-and-a-half years apart. She had a lot of needs early in life; she couldn’t hear at birth, but eventually that was corrected with surgery. She learned to talk late, seemed to always be sick, and was often in and out of the hospital. As Kassy entered school she had trouble making friends and developed anger issues. By high school, drugs became a major part of my sister’s life and impacted the entire family. I watched my parents go through one heartbreaking episode after another with my sister. 

Kassy (left) and Kristi.I didn’t speak to Kassy for almost eight months after she destroyed my apartment. When she finally called, I was surprised by what she said, but not totally. “I’m pregnant,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry for everything… Will you help me?”

My sister needed me. I had to be there for her.

Kassy committed to being clean and sober through the entire pregnancy. At only 18, she chose to let friends of our family adopt the child. Giving up the baby put her in a dark and lonely place. Kassy couldn’t see the good in what she’d done for the adopting parents, and for the baby. She suffered. Deep down I knew as soon as the papers were signed, my sister was going back to where she would feel no pain. The closer we got to the birth, the more dread I felt about her future.

Not long after Kassy gave up the baby, I made a critical mistake. Newly divorced, I needed a fresh start. I accepted a job in Virginia but was nervous about the move, having never been away from my family in Oregon. So I took my sister with me. She was still dealing with the guilt of giving up a child, and was using drugs regularly and drinking again. But in lucid moments Kassy claimed she wanted to give it all up. We agreed that a change of scenery would improve life for both of us. It all came to an end two months after the move, on what I thought was just another Tuesday night.

She charged at me with a fury that caused me to fear for my life. She wanted money for alcohol, and my car keys. She threw things and spewed hatred. I wasn’t going to call the police on my sister—even though I didn’t recognize her. I fled.

Our parents moved Kassy back home almost immediately. I returned six years later. During the time I was gone I was constantly on the phone with Mom or Dad having gut-wrenching conversations about the state of panic they were living in. Kassy was spiraling. She was stealing from them to buy drugs. Dad would go out and find her in the most disgusting places, sometimes beaten severely by a drug-fueled “friend.”

Living so far away, all I could do was worry.

When I moved back and saw my sister for the first time in years, she was extremely frail and unhealthy. I feared she’d have heart failure right then and there. As a family we tried to stay positive, but the strain of Kassy’s addiction was unbearable at times. Mom would do something Dad didn’t agree with, I would do something Mom saw as unhelpful, we would all stop talking to each other, and it went round and round like that day after day. We worried that by loving her, we were enabling her. But we couldn’t let her go without basic needs like food and shelter. All of us were confused… exhausted… terrified. Holidays were the worst. Our hearts were beating, but we weren’t breathing—always on eggshells, waiting for a call from the police, saying Kassy was arrested again, or had overdosed.

At 29, pregnant and homeless, Kassy got arrested for the last time after a series of arrests. It was a relief. I saw jail as a chance for her to be protected. A chance to get a meal, and be away from drugs and alcohol.

While Kassy was in jail and facing prison time, our mom’s cousin discovered Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center (an inpatient treatment program for pregnant women and mothers with young children). She presented the possibility to Kassy, who only interviewed at Letty Owings Center (LOC) as a way to stay out of prison. She was admitted within days. There were challenges immediately. Kassy didn’t like the rules, expectations, or emphasis on accountability. But the staff was patient, and eventually won her trust.

She began to heal. My parents and I could take a breath.

Over the next eight months Kassy completed treatment at Letty Owings Center, and had her son Ace. The experience at LOC taught her how to be a mother. She learned how to care for a baby, and for herself. After leaving LOC Kassy and Ace (Mom calls him our miracle), moved into Laura’s Place (three to six months of housing, support services and case management for women who have completed treatment at LOC). Next, the two of them moved into permanent alcohol- and drug-free family housing provided by Central City Concern. The fact that it’s a clean and sober living environment is so huge.

"I know if I need something Kassy will be there for me. And she knows I’m here for her, and for Ace. Always."Moms, dads, and kids get together to celebrate milestones, support one another emotionally, and look out for each other. Families are able to laugh, relax, and enjoy their lives. Knowing my sister and nephew have a safe place to call home helps me sleep at night.

We stopped trying to do everything for Kassy, and she claimed more control over her life. She gained a profound understanding of what it takes to get better. And she’s committed to seeing it through. I was afraid for so many years. For my sister. For my parents. There were days when nothing I said or did seemed to make a difference. Days when I felt useless and weak. But now I know what the right help and strength of family can overcome. I know the power of not giving up on someone. I no longer blame or second guess myself. I’m not running to my parents and trying to figure out why, why, why, or how, how, how. I talk to my sister almost every day. We are together three to four times a week. I know if I need something Kassy will be there for me. And she knows I’m here for her, and for Ace. Always.

Central City Concern’s help has been invaluable. Without the resources, I believe Kassy would maybe still be using drugs and likely be homeless, or worse. CCC gave Kassy an extended family of staff and residents who share similar backgrounds and speak from experience. They put her in touch with a lot of good things like peer support, the Employment Access Center, family mentoring, health care, and mental health counseling. The possibilities of a promising future were revealed to my sister through healthy living, education, and friends to lean on. Today Kassy is going to school at Portland Community College, studying to be an addictions counselor. Soon she’ll be able to share her experience with others, like the staff at Letty Owings Center did with her. She’s well on her way, having recently earned certification as a peer mentor. I am so proud of her!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May 2018 Edition

May 29, 2018

For this month’s volunteer spotlight we sat down with Danielle Wheeler, a volunteer with the Recuperative Care Program (RCP), to talk about her work.

RCP provides immediate housing, intensive case management and access to primary care at our Old Town Clinic. Once clients are stable, they can focus on rebuilding their lives. Central City Concern specialists can help them get supportive housing, training, employment and the resources they need to recover and to become self-sufficient.

Jordan Wilhelms, RCP's program manager, had this to say about the role Danielle, our spotlighted volunteer, plays:

“Danielle has been an amazing volunteer for RCP. She has embodied the RCP spirit of service, has tirelessly and consistently worked to improve our systems, relieve our staff from burden where possible, and brought her organizational and housing expertise to RCP’s capacity to provide skilled interventions for our participants!”

Annie Demotta, RCP's housing specialist added, “Danielle is someone with an incredible skill set, with high standards, who also leads with her heart. On behalf of myself, the RCP team and the people we serve, we are so lucky to have her here!”

Read on to hear how Danielle got connected with CCC, why the team keeps her coming back to volunteer, and why housing is such a crucial part of recuperative care.

• • •

PeterAs CCC's Recuperative Care Program housing specialist volunteer, Danielle has become a key member of the team and a compassionate ear for clients.: What is your name and volunteer position?

Danielle: My name is Danielle Wheeler and my volunteer position is housing specialist.

P: How did you get hooked up with RCP and CCC?

D: This is a really cool story actually. So three years ago I left my career job to stay home with my kids and I wanted to spend a little more time volunteering while my kids were in school. For many years I’d been involved through my church in a monthly serving of meals at Bud Clark Commons through Transition Projects (TPI), so I called them up and they threw me into a role to teach how subsidized housing works.

P: Do you have a background in subsidized housing?

D: I don’t. I have an MBA and my background is in marketing. A case manager who was doing those classes trained me and then he went back into his case management role, so I continued on [teaching the classes]. It was really great and it gave me the hands-on work that I really wanted to do.

So I did that for a couple years, and one day I met a woman who was struggling with her housing plan and understanding the housing market and I finally referred her to her case manager and she said, “Well, I don’t have a case manager here, I’m at RCP” and I said, “What’s RCP?”

I was introduced to [RCP staffer] Annie Demotta and through that, because this woman was just not understanding who was who and where everybody came together, learned about the RCP program and I was hooked. Annie invited me in to take a look around and see if I wanted to get involved, so I slowly started balancing that into my workload.

"So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances... that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet."
-Danielle, CCC Volunteer

P: What did you find so interesting about RCP?

D: I have a real passion for working with the most vulnerable, and RCP has a very high percentage of those who need a lot more supportive care across the board, not just in housing. So housing is where I spend most of my time, but housing is just one piece of people being able to achieve whatever goals they have for themselves.

I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft, I’ve worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well and with a lot of diversity on the team as well. There’s a lot of respect here and I think the vast majority of clients that come through RCP really feel this is their journey and that we are not dictating to them. We are here to support them, hear their goals, and then provide them pathways to that and then encourage them along the way. I really hear that come out in the clients.

And yet these are some of the most vulnerable people. They have not only had some hard luck along the way, not had family support, whatever it might be that has lead them to the situation; now they have medical conditions on top of that and so for me it just really grabs my heart to be able to be a part of a team that is there to support them in moving along their path.

P: And what specifically are you doing with the program? Has it changed since volunteering at TPI?

D: It’s broadened. At TPI I was more focused on subsidized housing, but housing can often be much more than that. To address somebody’s subsidized housing plan, you really have to understand who they are, what their overall goals are, and it’s usually a multi-step process. It’s rare that somebody can just go out and get a job and get an apartment. It does happen, but sometimes there needs to be some other pieces along the way.

So what I like about my role here is it’s all-encompassing. It’s “sit down, hear where they want to go with housing, and then start to fill in the pieces;” sometimes that’s subsidized housing, sometimes it’s not. Through Annie and through the team, I’ve learned about and continued to learn about so many different housing options that exist out there.

P: And what are the main challenges in that work of trying to help secure housing for people?

D: I think, simply put, it’s that there aren’t enough options for people. I think that there are a lot of great programs out there and I think that there’s a lot of energy trying to coordinate across those programs. However, they are still disparate and understanding what is what, I think of it as a big puzzle. Each person gets to define what pieces they want to put in that puzzle and there is no guidebook for that.

"I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft,  I've worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well..."

P: And the fact that you’re dealing with people who may have been chronically homeless over decades and dealing with complex medical issues, I’d imagine the process can be really overwhelming for folks.

D: Yeah, it really depends. There are some who are ready, whether that’s due to a new illness that has complicated something, a recent arrest that has been the final straw for them, some people come really ready to change things. But for most, it is a challenge to build trust, and not with the staff here, I see that happen more quickly than I’ve seen with any other program, but rather trust in the process and that “the system” won’t let them down. It’s not uncommon that until somebody has the keys in their hand they don’t really believe it’s going to happen. So sometime we get lack of engagement because of that, which is heartbreaking.

It’s hard to get to the core of why they don’t trust. And it might just be that they are not ready for that, it’s not their time yet. And that’s okay too. One of the great things about RCP is that the staff here are very respectful of [that]. It’s not about us imposing on them, for example, that they must be housed. If somebody is not comfortable with that, for whatever reason, we can offer them support in maybe exploring that, but if that’s not what they want that’s okay too. It’s client-led here and I think that’s a big difference.

P: And despite the fact that being housed is a part of the RCP program, it’s technically a health services program. Why do we have a housing department in a health services program?

D: So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances (or whatever has been going on in their housing background that is not stable) that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet. So, many people recognize that and recognize that housing is a part of their care plan, medically speaking.

P: So it’s giving that baseline to be able to build on the rest of that plan?

D: It’s a piece of the plan. RCP has a very holistic view. People come in here for medical reasons, but then we’re humanizing their experience and we’re saying you know we’re not just here to get you to your doctor’s appointment. We’re here to listen to you and hear what your goals are when you leave and see if we can’t support and connect you during your time here to helping you on your pathway to those goals. And more often than not, housing is a piece of that: “If I only had my own space and quiet I could heal better” or “I could sleep better and then I could go back to work.” So housing becomes a core piece for most people.

P: Have there been any standout experiences during your time here?

D: There have definitely been some clients who came through here that’ve touched my heart and have gotten housed and been so grateful and there have been some beautiful moments that way. But I think the moment that touched me the most was actually an internal one with the team.

There had been an incident in the building that had potentially put some of our staff in harm’s way. What really touched me was that this team’s management intentionally took the time to sit the team down, debrief, and make sure that people felt heard. Emotions were encouraged and shared. I had mentioned this was a high-functioning team, but in that moment I saw why. The management of this team was incredible in the way that they allowed that to unfold and the team to come together, and that translates into better services for our clients. Not just because of the skill set (should there be another potentially dangerous situation), but just for being more present and aware as a team for every client that comes through here.

P: And, our traditional last question, what would you say to someone who was curious about volunteering with CCC but was on the fence?

D: I do get asked a lot by people who are interested. Homelessness is such a big topic in Portland and so lots of people ask me how they can get involved. Having seen only a slice of CCC, but hearing about how the medical services, for example, fit in, or the bigger housing pieces fit in, I am so impressed with CCC’s offerings across different ways to serve somebody. CCC’s big enough where anybody who wants to get involved in homelessness, whatever that means to them and wherever their passions are, can figure out [a role] where they are comfortable and still contribute to the organization.



Always Family

Apr 23, 2018

Kassy F. grew up in Gresham in a loving household with her parents and older sister, but her struggles with ADHD made it difficult for her to control her temper and concentrate in school. Her emotional and behavior issues escalated, and by the time she reached her teens, she landed in residential mental health facilities.

Her newborn son's medical emergency was the flashpoint for Kassy to take her recovery seriously. Today, Kassy is well on her way to becoming a drug and alcohol counselor.She started drinking at age 13 and using meth at 16. She dropped out of school at 15. When she was 21, she started working in a strip club and selling methamphetamine.

Her family was devastated. Of course they wanted to support Kassy, but they didn’t want to enable her. They simply didn’t know how to help her. Kassy avoided them until she needed something, and they often didn’t know where she was. “She had to want to change,” her dad John said. “We couldn’t do it for her.”

After eight years working in the club, Kassy was arrested with her boyfriend. He was sent to prison but she was pregnant and the judge allowed her to go to CCC’s Letty Owings Center (LOC).

“We were so thankful to finally know where she was,” her mom Cindy said.

After Kassy’s son Ace was born, she continued to live at LOC, but wasn’t really interested in getting better. “I was just going through the motions to stay out of jail,” Kassy said.

She had a complete change of heart a few months later when Ace became ill and landed in the hospital with a respiratory illness. “I realized his life depended on me,” she said. “If I had been high, I might not have gotten him help in time.”

From that day forward, Kassy has poured everything she has into her recovery and becoming the best mom she can be. She gained her GED diploma and Mental Health Peer Support Mentor certificate. She is now studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor. And the best thing: she and her family are back together. They spend time together every weekend, and Kassy knows they are there to help her and Ace if they ever need it.

Kassy and her family shared their story for this year’s We are Family fundraiser video. See the video and meet Kassy in person by attending our annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and CCC's Family Housing program on May 2. Purchase your tickets today!



Central City Cornerstones: A Thanks to Our Volunteers

Apr 20, 2018

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On Thursday, April 19, Central City Concern held its first annual Central City Cornerstone volunteer appreciation event. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

We’re wrapping up this year’s volunteer week with some photos from Central City Cornerstones, CCC's first annual volunteer appreciation event. While we focused this week’s blog posts on the people who had been served by our volunteers, we would be remiss if we did not also make sure to officially recognize those volunteers as well. Keep reading for a recap on last night's festivities!

• • •

Last night, a group of CCC staff and volunteers gathered together to celebrate a year’s worth of service from our dedicated volunteers. It was great opportunity for the volunteers, who are spread out over 29 different programs and locations at CCC, to get together and learn a little bit more about what’s going on at the organization.

President and CEO Rachel Solotaroff kicked off the evening with a few words about how volunteers have shaped the agency and been drivers of change.

Kari Fiori, a staff member at the Recovery Mentor Program, also read from this week’s blog post about a Recovery Mentor volunteer’s journey from being served to service.

Lindsey Ramsey, Letty Owings Center's (LOC) milieu supervisor, also spoke. She shared about the long history of volunteerism at LOC and how their volunteers have expanded the program's ability to serve the mothers and young children living there.

And to cap the night off, we presented Presidential Service Awards in addition to some special gifts that were generously donated by Next Adventure to 13 very special volunteers who gave 100 hours of service or more in 2017. Collectively, between those 13 volunteers, their service amounted to more than a quarter of all the volunteer hours given in 2017. Those volunteers were:

Anita August
Jeff Beers
John Bishop
Loraine Decker
Helen Hernandez
Helen Hotchkiss
Malinda Moore
Annette Moreau
Jack Ramsey
Judy Sanders
Robert Stewart
Michael Taylor
Danielle Wheeler

Thanks to all our volunteers, staff, their guests, and our generous sponsor Next Adventure for helping making the evening so special! We’re already looking forward to next year!



Living Containers of Joy

Apr 19, 2018

For Thursday’s post, we’re calling back to our January volunteer spotlight, which illuminated the efforts of Rob Stewart, who leads a container gardening class at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room.

I dropped by the Living Room on a fairly cold and wet morning, which perhaps had the Living Room a little quieter than usual. Once Rob’s class began, however, the room turned into a buzz of activity, with people gathering around to work with their plants, chatting with Rob about the plants they had already potted, and just taking in the class.

It’s clear that Rob’s class is a much appreciated and anticipated part of the schedule of classes at the Living Room. One of the members who potted a plant during the session couldn’t contain herself and exclaimed, “Wow, it look so good already” just after getting her plant situated in its new home.

I was able to tear a couple of the participants away for a quick chat about why they enjoy the class and what it has meant to them. Read on to see how a plant can be more than just a plant, but the thing that brings joy to a home, a reminder of people we love, and a companion all in one.

• • •

Peter: Craig proudly holds up the plant he spent Rob's class tending to.How many times have you done Rob’s class?

Craig: Once before, last week.

P: What have you enjoyed about the class?

C: I just like the idea of getting some information about the plants that are out there and learning some horticulture. And just the ability to spruce up my room a little bit.

P: So you’ve taken the one plant back with you already?

C: Yes.

P: Had you done any gardening or planting prior to this?

C: I did have a garden when I owned a home back in New York—just a vegetable garden.

P: So you came in with a green thumb?

C: I wouldn’t say I had a green thumb, but my dad was really the one that taught me as he built his own greenhouse. He taught me some different tips and over time I got the knack of having a good vegetable garden.

P: Has it been nice to bring that connection with gardening back into you space?

C: Yes.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

C: Yeah, I think it’s really generous that he donates his time and money to allow us to take advantage of what he has to offer. So, thank you.

• • •

'I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did.'Peter: Have you done Rob’s class before?

James: Yeah! [I got] my little aloe plant, Spike. A couple weeks ago I was doing a class here with Rob and I just seen it right off the bat and I was like, “I want that one.” And the name just came to me.

P: What have you liked about doing Rob’s class?

J: Well, I think he’s well educated with plants, he’s well informed, and he’s all around a pretty nice person. Easy to talk to and he’s very patient with the Living Room clients. Not all of us are herbologists and some of us don’t even have green thumbs!

I remember when I was staying at the 8x8 (CCC’s Richard Harris Building), I was lonely sometimes in my room there, so I went up to Fred Meyer one day with the intention of buying a plant. When I did Narcotics Anonymous, there’s an old cliché where they say, if you’re in recovery and you’re trying to get companions, you gotta start at the bottom and work your way up. So, you start with a plant, and then you move up to a pet, and then you go to a person. A plant is the lowest maintenance thing you have to take care of, so that’s why I went and got one.

P: Does taking plants home from Rob’s class give you that same feeling?

J: Yeah! Plants give the home some joy. It’s subtle, but it’s important. I used to sit with my spider plant a lot. It was a big one and I would watch TV and sit with it in my lap.

P: What was that plant’s name?

J: Catalina. I named her after a girl I once knew.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

J: I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did. The idea was sparked from being here and then I took it home and I developed my own thing from it. [The plants] are a companion, you know? I used to take [my spider] plant to the house meetings, cause everybody else was [bringing] their dog. And my spider plant got so many compliments, because people saw she was healthy.

P: People saw that it was cared for?

J: Yeah, plants are alive too. Everything needs love, y’know?



Healing Ourselves in Order to Heal Others

Apr 18, 2018

For today’s blog post, we’re throwing it all the way back to last year’s Volunteer Appreciation Week, where we featured our partnership with Living Yoga and their volunteers.

One of our volunteer instructors, Diane, shared last year that, “this was [her] first real experience of volunteering,” but that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of [the] whole week.” Then-Director of Detoxification Services Steve Mattsson also shared that Living Yoga had not only been a fulfilling opportunity for our clients, but also that it had reduced the number of clients leaving care against professional advice.

There’s no doubt that engaging in a yoga practice can be transformative, even if the transformation is just into a hot, sweaty mess. For Chelsey, a former client of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program, having access to yoga was not only an important part of her recovery journey, but also in taking the strength she gained in that process and offering it to others in her own volunteership. Read on to see how volunteers, volunteering, and, of course, yoga have been a part of her transformation.

• • •

I was getting ready to leave rehab with nowhere to go. I couldn’t go back to where I had been and didn’t have options or resources for a home of any kind in front of me. All I had was a few months clean time and some newly found hope.

Early in her recovery, Chelsey found the gift of yoga through CCC volunteers. Now she's volunteering to pass it on to others new to their recovery.Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program came into my life and set up housing for me to move from inpatient treatment into sober transitional living with a mentor to guide me through the basics of recovery, alongside intensive outpatient treatment with CCC. My dark path got lighter.

I took my first yoga class at the Old Town Clinic in the free wellness classes offered throughout the week. I don’t remember much except for looking to the teacher again and again to see if I was doing it right. Later, in the basement of the Estate Building, I took a yoga class with a volunteer teacher named Megan. Once she moved on, yoga was no longer an available option for the Mentor Program participants, so I sought out other places to practice.

While the practice itself was difficult I undeniably felt better afterwards—less anxious, less depressed, more motivated, and over time more aware of my thinking and cravings. I was able to step away from the constant mental chatter and start to have a new relationship with myself, my body, and even question my identity as I started to become a “healthy” person. Yoga has helped me work through chronic pain, build confidence through seeing myself grow and doing something difficult, and feel more in control and comfortable being present in my body. I started changing my self-destructive behavior and making amends to myself in this simple way.

It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program.... Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering.

Now, every Tuesday at 4:30, I volunteer as a yoga instructor to share with others what was freely given to me. It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program. They helped me so much when I needed it; it feels good to be able to offer resources to those working to change their lives. Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering. Some people come in still detoxing, newly out of Hooper. Some people have been coming back week after week and it is amazing to see the growth happening so quickly. Coming in from the chaotic busy streets to holding space for reflection and inner awareness feels like the change that could heal ourselves and downtown.

Being aware and taking advantage of resources was the difference between remaining addicted and creating a change in my life. When I moved into housing I asked who to thank and how to I could repay them. I was told that this “isn’t a hand out but a hand up.” Sometimes we just need help and to be shown the way and given an opportunity until we are fully able to heal, help ourselves, and in time, help others.

Through yoga I have learned I am capable of being stronger mentally and physically. I am able to do so much more than I have ever given myself credit for in the past. I am so grateful I get to share such an empowering and mindful practice. Through recovery we can heal ourselves and in turn heal those around us. Much like recovery, in yoga and through volunteering I am able to accept the benefits in order to offer them away.



More than Just Coffee and Conversation

Apr 17, 2018

For our first National Volunteer Week post, we’re calling back to this past February’s Volunteer Spotlight, where we singled out the work of some of the volunteers who give their time to the Letty Owings Center (LOC). June Hensala, one of the volunteers featured, spoke about how much it has meant to her to be able to take some of the LOC mothers out for coffee and conversation when they first arrive at LOC. While she said that she felt like, “the gain is really more on [her] part,” it’s clear that the benefit is not so one-sided.

A couple weeks ago, we had the chance to sit down with a current LOC client, Carly*, to talk with her about what it has meant to her to interact with volunteers like June and why it matters so much that they keep coming back.

*name changed to protect privacy

• • •

Carly, a Letty Owings Center client, shares what it means to her to have volunteers spend Saturday mornings with her over coffee and conversation.Peter: So you’ve gotten to go out for coffee with some volunteers before?

Carly: Probably like three or four times now.

P: Are you a coffee drinker? Or do you prefer lattes or cappuccinos?

C: Yeah, I’m a coffee drinker for sure, and they usually give us a pastry also. And a lot of good conversation. It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us. They take us out and get us whatever we want and they just talk to us. They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental. They’re very, very sweet ladies.

P: How is it different or more special to have volunteer do that, rather than a staff member?

C: Just knowing that somebody cares. To see that from a stranger is really cool. Like, they want to know about your background, they want to give you advice. I remember one time I went, they asked me if I know who the “M and M presidents” were and I didn’t at the time, but it’s Madison and Monroe and it’s stuck with me ever since.

P: Were they back-to-back, is that why they’re the M and M presidents?

C: Yeah, fourth and fifth, I believe. And they came again so many months later and I told them I remembered and that just warmed their hearts that we pay attention.

P: You mentioned talking about your background with the volunteers. I wonder if you would mind sharing what that is?

C: I come from a life of basically prostitution and drugs; most of my family used drugs. I had a son about a year ago and I moved to Arizona to have him and under some pretty horrible circumstances I came back [to Portland] and he was taken from me. So, I really only had one option, which was to come to treatment [at Letty Owings Center].

When I first started here it was mainly for him, but then the longer I stayed the longer I realized that there’s more to life and it’s worth it.

"It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us.... They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental."

P: Has having things like people taking you out for coffee been a part of that experience? Having something extra?

C: Yeah, it makes me want to lend a hand where help is needed, because that’s typically what it is here. It’s not about the coffee, it’s not about the treats. A lot of it is supposed to be for the newer girls since you don’t get to do very much at all when you first come in to treatment [editor’s note: LOC clients spend the first few weeks at LOC focusing on recovery activities]. They take you out for a nice treat and they take you out for a decent amount of time and they make you feel good.

P: And when I spoke to those volunteers, what they really liked was that they get to talk with younger people. Has it been nice on your side to sit down with someone who is different from you in that way?

C: Absolutely! They offer so much knowledge! Their stories about when they were our age, it’s just great.

P: Do you have a favorite story that you remember one of them telling you?

C: There’s a lady, her name is Phyllis, and she’s just the funniest woman ever. She said when she was younger, she had this job filling Easter baskets and she ended up stuffing every third candy bar up her skirt. When she got on the bus to go home they all melted and they ended up firing her from the job on her second day because she was eating all the candy bars.

P: And would there be anything that you want to say to the volunteers about what it has meant to have them come?

C: Yeah. Thank you dearly, and keep coming back. Keep coming back because it gives the new girls something to look forward to and it means a lot to us that people have experienced our presence and keep coming back.

P: That they weren’t scared away?

C: Yeah, exactly.



We Can Count on Our Volunteers: 2017 Service Report

Apr 16, 2018

While this week’s volunteer stories will center on the qualitative impact our volunteers have, when we total up the numbers, they too tell a clear story. Our volunteers are dedicated, diverse of skill, and donate more than just time to Central City Concern.

As they say, many hands make light work (or to be more specific, 922 hands). So with these kind of numbers, it’s no wonder that CCC’s volunteers are able to do so many amazing things.

If you’re interested in becoming CCC’s 268th volunteer, visit our volunteer page!

(Click on the image to download a PDF version of the infographic.)




Central City Concern Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2018!

Apr 16, 2018

It’s that time again (arguably the best time of the year), National Volunteer Week! This is always an exciting time for us at Central City Concern, as we have so many people who give their time in so many different, but equally wonderful ways. Even a week doesn’t feel long enough to begin to illuminate all the amazing things our volunteer base helps us do, but we’re excited to share this year’s stories.

For the first blog post of the Volunteer Week series, Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares some thoughts about how we can give back to our communities and how we are highlighting our volunteers’ work this year by focusing on the people they serve.

• • •

CCC Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares that every volunteer role plays a part in improving our community.“I’d like to help, but I don’t know how!”

This is something I hear often when sitting down with prospective volunteers or talking with people about volunteership in general. For some people, that comes from not knowing what the available roles are, or not having had the time to volunteer previously, but I think part of it comes from the feeling that the need is so large that one person couldn’t possibly make a difference.

It’s so easy to imagine service to be something grand or dramatic. A group of fifty people banding together to go out and help finish a large project in a day or working to create a new program that will address an unmet need in our community. To be certain, this kind of work can be hugely important and necessary, but I want to challenge the idea that this is the ultimate way to give back.

In honor of this year’s National Volunteer Week, we’re calling back to some of the volunteer spotlights from the past year and showing the other side of the story. The people who have been touched by the work of those dedicated volunteers. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Our volunteers bring in anything from a special skill that they want to pass along to others or just a warm presence. And from a quantifiable standpoint, the fact that the average volunteer at CCC stays for almost twice as long our minimum service requirement shows that the work is just as meaningful for them as it is for us.

...at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Most of the volunteers that we have featured in our Monthly Volunteer Spotlights give, on average, a couple shifts a month of volunteer service, but what is clear is that they have all had a tremendous impact on the people we serve. They have inspired in those they serve a sense of hope, a path toward recovery and strength, and a way for people to feel like they have a home of their own. And they have done it all one day at a time, one person at a time.

So, if in reading this week’s blogs you find yourself thinking, “I’d like to give back, but I don’t know how,” consider whether you have four hours a month or a week that you could give to a cause that matters to you. Your presence will make a difference. As one of our interview subjects said, what matters most to her is that people keep coming back.



Bringing out the BEST for CCC Clients

Mar 29, 2018

A detailed application. Multiple questionnaires. Medical exams and psychiatric assessments. Probing, personal questions about your past. Unforgiving deadlines.

Just reading those words might be enough to make you feel overwhelmed. Welcome to the process for pursuing Social Security benefits.

The application process is notorious for being as complicated as it is comprehensive: it ensures that only those who are truly unable to earn wages receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. Unfortunately, the high degree of difficulty also means that those who are most in need of the stabilizing lifeline of Social Security income are often unable to successfully apply by their own efforts.

BEST program staffers build the strongest Social Security benefits case possible for each client by reviewing medical records, performing interviews, and coordinating assessments.Many of the people Central City Concern (CCC) serves fit in this category. So since March 2008, CCC’s Benefits and Entitlements Specialist Team (BEST) program has helped particularly vulnerable individuals—most experiencing homelessness or deep poverty and living with severe disabilities that keep them from gaining their own income through employment—navigate the maze.

“The stress of telling their story and reliving traumas is often overwhelming and triggering,” says Kas Causeya, BEST’s program manager. “Add in complicated terminology and unfamiliarity with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Service (DDS) criteria for awardees, and the applicant’s chance for errors rockets up if they try on their own.”

BEST’s benefits specialists walk side-by-side with each client and use their expertise to maximize the chances of a successful application. They gather information through interviews with the client and those who may know more about their situation. They coordinate psychological and medical exams, which BEST pays for. And while the client’s cognitive impairment can add a level of difficulty, BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

...BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

The goal is, of course, to gain approval for Social Security benefits. To awardees, their income is much more than a check. It represents pride in being able to meet basic needs and pay rent. It inspires feelings of dignity by giving them a means to make purchases that allow a measure of self-sufficiency. The financial stability gives them freedom to engage meaningfully with their communities.

Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,600 people have found hope with the help of BEST.

Kellie F. counts herself among the fortunate. She has an exceedingly difficult time remembering things, a lifelong condition that has caused her great difficulties. She experienced multiple traumas growing up, and fresher ones as she moved through adulthood. She became heavily dependent on alcohol to cope.

“My memory thing is really flustering. There are things I wish I wish I could remember that I can’t. And there are some things from my past I don’t want to remember, but I do.”

Her substance use disorder brought her to CCC’s Hooper Detox, and from there she engaged with CCC’s 8x8 Recovery Housing program, where she started developing the tools and skills for successful long-term recovery. Her case manager recognized Kellie’s difficulty with memory and referred her to the BEST program, if only for an initial assessment to see if her difficulties would qualify her for Social Security. That’s where she met Marshal, a BEST specialist.

“I found Kellie to be very eager and motivated to engage in the BEST process. As I reviewed her case I read the story of someone who faced significant barriers to work but who, despite much suffering and hardship, continued to persevere,” recollects Marshal.

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Together, Marshal and Kellie dived into the process. They explored Kellie’s understanding of her impairments and how they impacted her daily life. Marshal took her to a psychologist for a cognitive evaluation, helped her complete a phone interview with the Social Security office, met with her to review her work history, and again to go over little details to further strengthen her claim. Marshal and his BEST colleagues reviewed all her medical records, wrote a detailed report summarizing their argument for Kellie’s behalf, and kept in regular contact with SSA and DDS. Through it all, he made sure to keep the line of communication with Kellie as open and inviting as possible, earning and nurturing a sense of mutual trust.

Stacks of paperwork that grow to a foot high over the course of building a client's case are a common sight in the BEST office.“I felt nervous at first about [applying]. And there were times when were times I felt overwhelmed by the questions,” Kellie says. “But Marshal was really encouraging and supportive.”

Kellie and Marshal had good reason to feel optimistic about her chances once they sent in her application. Due to their fluency in the system, BEST wins 67 percent of their initial applications, compared to 32 percent of applicants from the general population. To put BEST’s expertise even more starkly, only 15 percent of applicants nationwide who are homeless are awarded benefits. The program’s close relationship and coordination with SSA and DDS mitigate many of the stumbling blocks that lead to unsuccessful applications.

On average, applicants receive an initial decision about 110 days after they submit their application; for BEST clients, they hear back, on average, within 74 days. Kellie received her results. But as is the case in 33 percent of BEST’s initial applications, Kellie received a heartbreaking denial. “I felt like I didn’t know where I was going to go from there,” she says.

Marshal acted quickly to reconfigure and strengthen Kellie’s case and filed for reconsideration. “We don’t like to see denials as ‘no,’” says Marshal. “We take it as a ‘just not yet’ and go from there.”

BEST’s perseverance pays off. An additional 6 percent of BEST’s clients win awards after a reconsideration or appeal, upping their overall success rate to 72 percent. Kellie eventually received a second letter. She had qualified for SSDI. Marshal’s extra efforts made all the difference.

“They saw that I really do have a disability that keeps me from working,” she says. “I was very happy about that. Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

“Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Behind each of the awards—and the reams of paperwork and hours of information gathering that went into them—is a person who has found stability they wouldn’t have had otherwise. A person who doesn’t feel as anxious about how they’ll afford necessities. A person who feels prepared to become a contributing part of the community. A person like Kellie.

“When I found out I qualified for SSDI, I felt like I could be part of society again. I feel better about myself now,” she says. “I actually just put in an application to do some volunteering.”

It often takes many hands to guide people toward self-sufficiency, however that ends up looking like for each person. Since 2008, more than 150 community partners— including BEST’s original partners:, the City of Portland, Providence Health & Services, and the Kaiser Community Fund—have played some role in helping more than 1,600 people achieve independence.

Receiving benefits doesn’t make Kellie’s memory impairments any better, which severely affect how she navigates each day. But she has a perspective that keeps her looking and moving forward.

“I can remember the things I need to remember that keep me on the good path now. Life is a heck of a lot better than it was.”