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.

• • •

“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.”

• • •

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.

• • •

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.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2017 Edition

Jan 31, 2017

Our first Volunteer Spotlight of 2017 highlights the unique role of Dr. John Bishop, a clinician who has chosen to spend time in Old Town Clinic’s Wound Care Clinic. As the Wound Care Clinic program is in its relative infancy, our lead practitioner, Pat Buckley, had this to say about Dr. Bishop’s contributions:

“Having his expertise as we were developing the program was extremely beneficial because it really helped us ramp up the quality of care more quickly than we otherwise would have been able to… He’s the bomb.”

If you’d like to learn more about Old Town Clinic’s Wound Care program we recommend you check out the National Health Care for the Homeless’s Healing Hands newsletter, where they highlight this young, yet valuable, Old Town Clinic service. In the meantime, take a look below to find out both what distinctive challenges Dr. Bishop encounters while at Old Town Clinic, but also what makes the care process so rewarding to him.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: John Bishop, provider in the Wound Care Clinic of Old Town Clinic.

How long have you been volunteering with us?
About year and a half now; it’s been very positive. It’s a different kind of wound care than I was used to, a different kind of situation, but it’s been very positive. Good, nice, qualified people to work with... pleasant, friendly. I like the patients, too. The patients, for the most part, are very nice.

What made you want to volunteer at Central City Concern?
I decided to be retired. And moving to Oregon from Florida there was no real employment for me, financially, in a semi-retired level. I spent many years learning how to do wound care and I didn’t want to just give up that knowledge overnight. It took a long time to develop what I know and I didn’t want to just throw it away so I figured I could use what I know positively for a few more years. And since I don’t get paid, I’d rather take care of people who can’t pay [Note: All Old Town Clinic patients are on a sliding scale fee.] They need the care and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get it.

Have there been any surprises at Old Town Clinic so far?
Well, the biggest problem I have here is with continuity of care and follow-up. Part of it is me as I only volunteer but two times a week, but part of it is the patients that don’t come back. That’s probably the biggest disappointment.

Then again, that’s the challenge from which we have to work. That’s what’s different from my civilian or private practice before I got here. That’s just one of those things in the practice of medicine.

Have you tried strategies to combat that?
Well it does direct how we administer our care. We have to prescribe a type of care with the assumption that maybe the patient won’t come back. That way, if they don’t, they’re not going to get themselves into more trouble from the care. My philosophy is to be positive, develop a little relationship with them, and have them feel like I’m expecting them so that they might feel more of an obligation from that. I make sure to say “I will see you next week!” and I hope they think, “If he cares enough to be there to look for me I ought to show up.” I don’t know if that’s how it works but that’s my goal.

I like doing wound care, I like taking care of people, and I like seeing wounds get well. It’s a very satisfying thing to start off with a mess and then see the patient eventually walk out and to tell them, “Don’t come back, you’re all done!" And along the way, since many wounds are chronic, there’s a big effort to teach the patient how to take care of it themselves so that they won’t have to come back. I don’t know how successful I am with that but it’s always been my guiding light in wound care. It’s  "Okay, this is what I want to do; if it happens again, this is what you can do for yourself.”

Having practiced medicine at Old Town Clinic, if somebody were on the fence about volunteering here is there anything you would want them to know?
Well I think the volunteering business is pretty nice. The state of Oregon has their physician emeritus program that kind of gives you liability coverage and allows you to practice and keep your skills alive. It lets you use the skills you already have and I think more physicians ought to consider that.

• • •

If you are a licensed practitioner interested in volunteering time with Portland’s vulnerable populations, we recommend checking out the Coalition for Community Health Clinics, a community and care-driven collaborative (of which Old Town Clinic is a partner).

For any other Central City Concern volunteer inquiries, please visit our volunteer webpage.



Medicaid Waiver Extension is Good News for Central City Concern

Jan 13, 2017

On Friday, Jan. 13, Governor Brown announced the federal government extended Oregon’s Medicaid Demonstration Waiver for another five years, effective immediately to run through June 2022.

“This is great news for Central City Concern,” said Executive Director Ed Blackburn. “As a health care provider serving people with very low incomes or experiencing homelessness, we have many patients who are highly dependent on Medicaid to access medical, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment.”

In 2013, the year before Medicaid expansion in Oregon, 47 percent of CCC’s patients were uninsured; two years later in 2015, only 11 percent of CCC’s patients lacked health insurance coverage. This expansion of Medicaid coverage improved CCC patients' access to needed care as well as enabling CCC to offer a more intensive care model that responds appropriately to the needs of these high-risk populations. Without Medicaid expansion, CCC could lose the capacity to serve as many as 2,000 homeless and very low-income patients.

“We treat every patient as an individual,” said Blackburn, “and many of those individuals rely on the Oregon Health Plan to access desperately needed services. Lisa G. is just one example of the many people who need this support and benefited from Oregon’s Medicaid expansion here at CCC.”

Lisa G. was terrified of losing her health insurance. Before Medicaid expansion, the Oregon Health Plan denied her coverage three times. “It’s something I think about all the time. Without the Oregon Health Plan,” Lisa said, “I just don’t know where I’d be.”

Lisa, 23, used drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine for five years. She also struggled with bipolar disorder, which further complicated her ability to stop using drugs. She tried quitting with no luck, until eight months ago when she accessed recovery support services through CCC. In Lisa’s case, medication assisted treatment helped her tackle her opioid addiction, so she could then focus on her severe bipolar disorder and other medical issues at CCC’s Old Town Clinic.

Lisa now lives in supportive alcohol and drug-free recovery housing and works in CCC’s On-Call Staffing program. She hopes one day to become a peer mentor and help others to overcome their opioid addiction. Without Medicaid expansion, Lisa wouldn’t have had access to critical recovery services that led to integrated health care, housing and employment services.

“Medicaid not only supports these individuals in their health and well-being,” said Blackburn, “but also leverages other resources such as housing and employment, further enhancing the health and well-being of our entire community. Though there are uncertainties about health care on the national scene, we’re tremendously relieved Oregon’s Medicaid Waiver will continue for five more years.”

CCC is a large non-profit organization, founded in 1979 in Portland, OR, that serves people experiencing or vulnerable to homelessness by providing health care and recovery services, housing, and employment services. In the last year, CCC helped more than 13,000 people, most through our 11 Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) sites that offer integrated behavioral health and primary care. For more information, visit centralcityconcern.org.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: December 2016 Edition

Dec 22, 2016

Old Town Clinic’s Wellness Program offers a variety of classes and activities to further patient care, healing, and connectedness within the Central City Concern community. This month we wanted to emphasize the outstanding work of Jeff Beers, an art therapy volunteer who Program Manager Moira Ryan refers to as “a co-conspirator toward the Wellness Program’s aim of encouraging self-acceptance while building community.”

In fact, when approached about Jeff’s wonderful service being the spotlight for December, Moira jumped at the opportunity to provide a glance into her work and experience with Jeff:

San Francisco-based artist Jeff Beers has years of experience working with diverse populations as an arts educator. Jeff joined us in July and has been a fantastic peer volunteer and co-facilitator of several Wellness groups. In our Art for Everybody and Art Journaling groups, he’s brought a more tactile experience of art-making as we practice trying out working with oils, inks, powder tempera, collage, collagraphy, and even found items! He draws upon his experience as a self-taught artist and encourages mistake-making, regularly reminding folks that we have permission to practice not being perfect here. Additionally, drawing from his experience as a certified instructor of Thai Massage, he’s developed curricula for a group we’re calling Eastern Techniques for Health and Longevity. In that group, we draw on trauma-informed somatic experiencing precepts as we explore tapping, brushing, acupressure, stretching, and other acts of gentle self-love.

With Moira’s enlightening recap of Jeff’s involvement, read below to hear his own words about how he utilizes personal experience with a desire to help others through one of his greatest passions—art!

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: My name is Jeff Beers and my volunteer positions are for Art for Everybody on Mondays, and then on Wednesdays we do table-top Games and then I lead a group in Eastern Techniques for Health. On Thursdays I do ceramics and the art journaling as well.

So a pretty wide array of activities. What’s your background?
My background is in art for the most part; that’s what I do. Every year I choose an organization I want to volunteer for. Money comes very low on my priorities so I feel like it’s a way I can give back since I can’t give back monetarily. So I just find places that I really believe in and then volunteer. I get to pay it back and do what I love.

How have you been able to use those skill sets to connect specifically with those that CCC serves?
Well, I really like the clients. I have a lot of admiration for them because I know that they’re struggling with one thing or another and I just admire their efforts to reach out for help and be there. A lot of the groups, they vary in sizes, but it’s just cool to see the people regularly and to be a part of their lives. And just to contribute whatever I can, which would be a positive attitude, and some skill sets, but mostly just showing these people my admiration for what they’re doing.

And I want to make it worth their time too. I always feel conscious that if people make the effort to be in the class or in the group it should be worth their while. I keep that in mind and try to get a lot of feedback from the people and just tune-in to what they’re interested in; that’s been a lot of fun.

Have you had any cool projects that have been more successful or well-received that stick out?
Yeah! In Art for Everybody on Mondays I’ve been having a lot of fun introducing different techniques to the clients and they’re usually always interested in at least trying it out which is great. They find their voice and the right materials they want to work with. Then all of a sudden they become artists. Before they were always saying, “I’m not an artist, I’m not an artist,” and that’s hard for me to hear, so I like to bring them forward and show them what they can find in themselves.

And then the Eastern Techniques Class, that’s been a blast. Although it takes more preparation for me to package and present all of these techniques I’ve learned through the years, it’s been a lot of fun. I ask the clients for a lot of feedback and they’re usually pretty forthright about just coming up with critiques so it’s been fun to constantly let that group grow in that way.

Do you feel like the activities are a good fit for CCC and the Wellness Program?
Oh, very much so. Your guys’ program is just fantastic. When I was a client I just was blown away by all of the services that were provided under one roof so people didn’t have to go to different parts of the city to receive different services. I thought that was great. Of all of the private insurances I’ve had in the past this was easily, no contest, the most fantastic clinic I’ve ever seen. And so, it was an easy choice to volunteer.

I mean you even have volunteers who work at Old Town Clinic cleaning up things, setting up different things, I think it’s great. I think your program should be like a model for most of the clinics in the United States. It’s a great example of what you can do.

And lastly Jeff: if somebody were on the fence about volunteering with Central City Concern or about getting involved, would you have any advice or words of wisdom for them?
For me, I’ve always had a respect for people no matter what their situation is and I want them to know that. I think it’s a good thing for volunteers to show their genuine respect or admiration and not feel that it’s something out of obligatory need. I’m blown away by some of the people CCC serves and what their stories are that they share. So I think for volunteers in general that would be the most important thing.

And I think that anybody that would find interest or have the time to volunteer at CCC should never have to have any doubt about the value of what they’re bringing.

• • •

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.



Following the Recipe for Health and Community

Dec 20, 2016

''The frittata and the carrot muffins were the favorite thing we made.'' -Stykhead (in red)''I feel more confident that I can leave here with what I learned as we cooked every week.'' -Josh''My favorite thing we made was shepherd's pie. Instead of using a recipe they gave me, I kinda put my own spin on it.'' -Tom (in green)
''The best part was learning, especially how to budget. And you know what? The volunteers… they really, really care. I didn’t think theyd be so personable, but they are. It really touched me.'' -Kristina
Next

Cooking Matters, a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank, teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

• • •

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in November, the kitchen of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Living Room community space filled with sounds most could recognize as busy food preparation. The rhythmic rocking and knocking of a knife, the hollow echo of water falling on aluminum, the unmistakable crinkling of plastic packaging being opened and emptied, and even the overriding din of playful banter—all there.

Behind that noise? Eight people, all participants and soon-to-be graduates of the six-week Cooking Matters program, a partnership between CCC and the Oregon Food Bank. This was their final session as a group, so they were reveling in the chance to put what they’d learned in the weeks prior to good use. And based on that kitchen banter, they were having a blast doing it—together.

Since their first session, participants had gained a soup-to-nuts education on the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits, including following recipes and meal planning, shopping healthily on a budget and maximizing resources, understanding food labels, and even knife skills and food safety. At the end of each class, they received a grocery bag of food with which they could replicate the course they made that day.

According to CCC Health Educator Kerith Hartmann and Population Health Coordinator Linda Nguyen, the Cooking Matters curriculum can help address a number of issues common among Old Town Clinic (OTC) patients: food insecurity, weight gain, hypertension, coronary issues, and diabetes or pre-diabetes.

In fact, OTC primary care providers had been clamoring for a nutritional guidance program for patients for years and Kerith had often recommended Cooking Matters classes hosted by Oregon Food Bank elsewhere in the community. But the idea to bring the class to patients instead of referring patients out became more and more appealing, and soon enough the need was undeniable. “You wouldn’t necessarily think that there would be a cooking class based out of a medical clinic, but it makes so much sense, especially for the people we’re working with,” says Kerith.

With Oregon Food Bank on board to pilot a Cooking Matters class at CCC starting in late spring 2016, it was off to the races to find participants.

Approximately half of the Cooking Matters participants were identified and referred by their OTC primary care providers based on their medical histories and the level of engagement with their care. Because Cooking Matters builds on each week of curriculum, patients who showed an active engagement in their own care would benefit most.

Other participants were recruited through CCC’s Housed+Healthy initiative, which coordinates services between CCC supportive housing services and CCC’s health care programs. The work Housed+Healthy staff members do within the walls of CCC housing allows them to show clients that Cooking Matters is well worth attending, even if that means showing up at their doors prior to a session and walking with them to the Living Room.

“People living in our housing are inherently good candidates to benefit from Cooking Matters,” says Permanent Housing Manager, Dana Schultz. “They’re living in low-income housing, so they have budget restrictions and limited cooking resources. On average, people living in our housing are about 59 years old, which is when you see a prevalence of chronic conditions that can be managed through diet.”

Dana adds, “Plus, people who live in low-income housing have to be proactive about combating social isolation daily.”

Knowing that, the sounds heard in the Living Room kitchen take on a slightly different meaning. Those aren’t just the clatterings of making a meal. It’s the sound of people—all some combination of vulnerable, unwell, or isolated—coming together as the ingredients of community. Over the course of six weeks, they’ve encountered unfamiliar ingredients, learned new skills, grown in confidence, and broken bread—literally—together. They’re not shy about talking of this community aspect, either.

Tom, a Cooking Matters participant, says, “My favorite thing was being around these people and being able to cook something with different people around and eating together.”

Another participant, Stykhead, says, “The camaraderie here is great. Getting together and thinking of how we can cook better for ourselves. It gives a whole new outlook on how to cook.”

For Josh, Cooking Matters helped her extend community to her home. “I was able to share the food I made with my housemates.”

Though Cooking Matters at CCC has only completed two cohorts, stories of the program’s impact can start filling up a small cookbook. One patient lost enough weight to get a surgery she needed. Another participant loved learning how to make burritos so much that he not only stacked his freezer with them, but also gave them out to friends. Yet another made a lasagna for her neighbors. A few participants who lived in the same building developed a friendship during the program and held potlucks after they graduated.

Kristina, a participant in this latest cohort, says, “I can actually do a prepared meal on a regular basis. Before this preparing meals felt so tedious and hard to do. But now I have a plan in my head and it happens.” She pauses and lifts her chin up proudly. “And my son likes it.”

“I learned a lot as far as being able to buy healthy,” Stykhead shares. “It’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it was.”

Based on the popularity of Cooking Matters, Oregon Food Bank has committed to bringing the program to CCC for three more sessions through 2017. Their partnership, which includes providing additional volunteers, the curriculum, and all of the food used during each class, has been extraordinary, says Kerith.

Incorporating Cooking Matters into CCC helps send clients and patients on a trajectory to a better quality of life, Linda says. Participants have secured housing; with Cooking Matters, they are working their way toward securing health and moving toward overall wellness.

“It’s a joy to watch people’s faces light up when they try a new vegetable they love or even hate. At the end of the day, they get to enjoy a meal with people they like. And having that group of people to do this with compels them to believe that they can make all these skills a part of their daily life.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: Thanksgiving 2016 Edition

Nov 28, 2016

Last week, Central City Concern was extremely fortunate to have twelve community members volunteer their time to help serve Thanksgiving Eve meals to our residents at several of our supportive housing communities. We know that it takes special people to give their time during such a busy time of year. CCC's volunteer manager, Eric Reynolds, wanted to find out what compelled our volunteers to do just that, so he spent his Wednesday afternoon visiting each volunteer site to ask!

• • •

Elise, Kyle, and Dennis, volunteers at the Madrona:
Elise: "I’ve volunteered with Central City Concern for the last three Thanksgivings and I always come back because it’s just really great to see how appreciative people are to receive and share together. I like to be able to help provide that."
Kyle: "I always enjoy working with the people here and all the residents and how happy they are to have our help here. It makes Thanksgiving that much more special." 
Dennis: "This is my first time here but I signed up to come here because I really like CCC’s cause and I believe in it, so I want to give back specifically to the people CCC helps."

Jenn, volunteer at the Martha Washington:
"It was a great opportunity to give back to CCC, which has done so many great things for me. It’s a good way to get out and meet people who are involved in the organization."

 

 

 

Maureen and Steve, volunteers at the Estate:
Maureen: "I’m thankful to have the ability to help others."
Steve: "I spend most of my time being of service to myself, but it’s good to be of service to others when I can. We aren’t born with a sense of purpose… we have to find that ourselves."

 

Peter, volunteer at the Biltmore:
"Everyone deserves Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to be part of something larger than myself."

 

 

 

 

Scott, volunteer at the Biltmore:
"It gives me more than it gives them. I enjoy it as a way to give back."

 

 

 

 

Shannon, volunteer at the Richard Harris:
"I volunteer because it’s the holidays and I like to give back. I grew up very religious so it was part of my upbringing. And even though I’m not as religious now I like to give back because it’s in my blood. It was so lovely working with this group. It was awesome."


 



Celebrating Transgender Awareness Week

Nov 18, 2016

Nov. 14 – Nov. 20 is Transgender Awareness Week! GLAAD describes this week as a time to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

The transgender patients and clients we serve at Central City Concern are a valued part of our vibrant community, but they also face a number of unique barriers. According to CCC Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, Dr. Eowyn Rieke, people who identify as transgender are more likely to have difficulty finding employment and accessing housing. This, of course, increases the chances they become homeless and live in poverty, which is often how they end up as CCC patients.

Roran Everheart, an urgent care medical assistant at our Old Town Clinic, adds, “There is an overriding fear of being outed and ending up on the street. There’s a fear of violence.”

Our mental health providers also see a relationship between people who struggle with questions about their gender identity in isolation, and mental illness and substance use disorders. “Oftentimes we see that someone’s gender identity struggles play such a role in their mental illness that we actually see a relief of symptoms when people can make steps toward living the life that they believe is rightfully theirs,” says Erika Armsbury, Director of Clinical Services at our Old Town Recovery Center. “And the same goes with substance use—we see people who use substances as a means to manage whatever it is they are struggling with around who they are with respect to gender.”

Roran, who identifies as trans, understands some of this firsthand. “I wasn’t able to transition until I got into recovery,” he shares. “Gender identity is so complex. When you’re trying to figure out what your gender identity is, it’s a strain on your mental state. From my own experience, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is also homeless, addicted, and also trying to transition.”

These are the very real issues that affect the transgender community we serve; they matter profoundly to us. We also know CCC must continue working to extend the values of equity and inclusion to more and more people. In fact, increasing equity is an explicit part of our organization’s strategic plan.

In that spirit, CCC—particularly our health services—has taken steps over the last year to make our agency is more trans affirming, trans inclusive, and responsive to the experiences of transgender individuals. Staff members formed working groups. They held meetings, brainstormed, and prioritized. They consulted with our own health care consumers and colleagues.

Since that call to action, CCC’s health services have made significant advances to address the unique issues our trans patients and clients experience.

Trainings
Within the past few months, every single CCC staff member across our primary care, mental health care, and substance use disorder programs has gone through a “Trans 101” training to provide an understanding of the basics. The information covered in these trainings was intended to demystify trans issues, as well as to learn how to be an ally and interact with transgender patients in appropriate, sensitive ways.

However, Eowyn emphasizes that this is not about cultural competence; instead, it’s about humility. “Competence implies that we who don’t identify as trans ‘get it.’ Instead, we’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”

Old Town Clinic primary care providers received additional training on the basic medical care of transgender patients. In a separate two-session training, mental health providers at Old Town Recovery Center learned about working with transgender patients during the transition process, as well as their responsibilities related to writing assessment and approval letters for patients hoping to transition.

“We want to be sure out providers are on the same page,” Erika says. “[Providing letters] is something we want to offer our patients consistently, but it’s important for us to improve our larger understanding of trans issues because, for us and our patients, the letter isn’t the ultimate goal, nor is it the end of their journey.”

Providing CCC health staff with information doesn’t just benefit them. It’s also a way to take a common burden off our trans patients. As Roran says, “Having to train your doctor to be trans aware can be so exhausting.” Staff members who are aware of trans patients’ experiences drastically reduces the chances of retraumatizing patients with insensitivity and judgment. Instead, calling back to CCC’s goal of cultural humility, Erika says, “Even if we aren’t experts, we know enough to be open and accepting. We honor their experiences and all the things they come to us with. We can show that we want to work with them to tease out the severe mental health hardships while also supporting them around their gender identity.”

Transgender Support Group
Patients of Old Town Clinic and the Old Town Recovery Center can now find a community of support, thanks to a new group co-facilitated by Roran and Shanako DeVoll. Though in its early stages, Roran sees great potential for the group, named “Chrysalis.”

“A lot of our clients are pretty isolated in their lives,” Roran says. “When you start to navigate your gender identity without supportive family or friends, it can be lonely to not have that sounding board. This group gives them a chance to meet other people who identify as trans.”

The hour-long support groups make room for organic conversation to talk about struggles and victories, resources, and relevant topics. Roran and Shanako co-facilitate, but the group itself is largely client-led. It begins open for anyone for two meetings, then closed for the following three months to give the group time to develop a sense of community and trust. After, the group open up again. That sense of trust, Roran says, is imperative to our clients.

“Many of our clients face mental health and addiction challenges. There are already lots of groups out there for trans people, the feeling is that many of them feel cliquish. Clients with mental health challenges may not be able to navigate the social cues at larger, more established groups, so having someone like Shanako, a mental health professional, on board is great.”

Roran hopes to see the support group thrive. Early signs show interest is high, and people appreciate this opportunity to find an accepting community. “I hope that people want to come back all the time and that this first group will invite their friends to this awesome group they’ve discovered.”

Adapting Electronic Health Records
In a health care setting, it’s easy to forget infrastructure and technology can carry the same biases and blind spots that we seek to mitigate. Thankfully, CCC health services didn’t forget, and instead spearheaded substantive changes to our Electronic Health Records (EHR) system to, as Eowyn says, “reflect this culture change of becoming more trans affirming and inclusive that we’re working to embed within the organization.”

The most immediate and noticeable change is the banner when one pulls up a patient’s record. There, at the very top, is now an area that shows the patient’s pronoun and preferred name. Though small, this change will help staff interact much more appropriately in the way that the patient identifies.

The EHR system will also help health care staff ask appropriate questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, in both content and word choice. Staff members performed hours of research to learn about best practices for asking these questions, then adapted it to CCC’s culture to be even more inclusive than what the current body of research suggests. The goal, according to Eowyn, is to structure these questions in a way so “as many people as possible have a place to feel like they belong.”

Better, more inclusive questions means gathering better, more inclusive responses. This, ultimately, will help CCC health services track how we are serving our transgender patients as a whole. In that vein, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing student is planning a period of focus groups and one-on-one interviews during which trans patients and clients can provide direct feedback about how CCC is doing and how we can continue to improve.

Keeping the Trans Community Visible
Finally, CCC will continue to be intentional about talking about trans issues, whether internally within the CCC community, or externally with partners and constituents. (Even this blog post is part of that effort!)

According to Erika, “The more we talk about [trans issues], the more we see it, and the more we work with people who identify as trans in a safe, open, and aware way, it will have a ripple effect in the public.”

Knowing that, CCC will continue to bring stories of our trans patients, as well as the work we do to, as Erika says, “give people an opportunity for people to live as they see themselves.”

 



What's 100,000 Hours Good For? One CCC Program Knows.

Nov 16, 2016

Popular belief says that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. What, then, does 100,000 hours allow you to do?

At Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) program, those hours have been used to change people, provide hope, and make a wide impact on the Portland community through volunteerism. And on Wednesday, November 9, the CCC community gathered to celebrate the 100,000 total hours of volunteer service CVC participants have contributed over the last seven years, during which people affected by homelessness, addictions, or past criminality have gained work experience while giving back.

“What’s taken us so long?”
On what many remember as the rainiest day in April 2009, a 15-seat passenger van pulled into Irving Park in Northeast Portland. Twelve people—each recently housed by Central City Concern, engaged in CCC’s addiction recovery services, and unemployed (or, depending on who you asked, unemployable)—piled out wearing waterproof boots and plastic ponchos. At the direction of Portland Parks & Recreation, they quickly got to work pulling weeds and raking leaves in the downpour.

        

A blown-up photo that hangs in the CVC conference room commemorates this ragtag group, the first of hundreds that would contribute volunteer work all over Portland. Since then, CVC has brought work crews to an astounding range of local nonprofits, including organizations like Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, Free Geek, ReBuilding Center, and Oregon Food Bank. In all, CVC has partnered with 32 total organizations.

The idea for CVC grew out of a conversation Central City Concern Executive Director, Ed Blackburn, had with his father in 2008. Because it was the height of the Great Recession, his father reminisced about his experiences as a young man during the Great Depression. Much to Ed’s surprise, his father told him of the time he was arrested for burglary, and given two options by the judge: spend time in jail, or join the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program created during the Great Depression that put young men back to work.

He opted for the latter. His time there, Ed’s father told him, “changed his life. Saved his life. It taught him to appreciate teamwork and to do something good together with others. It prepared him for work in the long run. He learned skills and work ethic.”

Ed knew that many people arriving in Central City Concern’s addiction recovery and mental health programs, particularly those who had experienced great hardship on the street, had an intense passion to help people and to give back, even when they didn’t necessarily have the tools to do so. He also knew that they had a lot of time on their hands. So after hearing about how the Civilian Conservation Corps helped his father develop a foundation to be productive the rest of his life, Ed wondered if CCC could do something similar.


Several conversations with employees in recovery and meetings with potential funders later, the Community Volunteer Corps was ready to take that first van full of volunteers to Irving Park.

“The one thing I heard from everyone was, ‘What’s taken us so long?’” Ed recalled.

Participation in the Community Volunteer Corps gives CCC clients an opportunity to ease their transition into the workforce and increases their self-confidence. Volunteer projects—pulling ivy, painting over graffiti, recycling computers, building homes for needy families, beautifying parks, and so much more—give participants an outlet to be productive in tangible ways during a time when their recovery demands intensive self-work and self-care.

Furthermore, a common refrain among participants is that CVC allows them to “give back” to the community they feel they hurt or took away from while active in their addiction.

When clients enroll in CVC, they make a commitment to the program. But perhaps more importantly, they make a commitment to their future. During an average of two to four months, participants carve out time between recovery meetings, appointments, and other obligations to volunteer a total of 80 hours with CVC. During that time, they develop soft skills that are foundational to permanent employment: showing up on time, getting along with others, following directions, practicing good work habits, and following through on commitments.


Every other month, the Central City Concern community gathers to celebrate those who recently completed their 80 hours. At the ceremony, each graduate receives photos from their time with CVC, a certificate of completion, and a letter of recommendation they can attach to their future resumes.

Permission to Believe
Since that rainy April day, 1,600 people have participated in the Community Volunteer Corps. Of them, 1,001 have completed their 80-hour commitments to the program.

Hundreds of journeys have started with the growth and encouragement afforded by the CVC experience. After graduating, participants find themselves ready and qualified for permanent employment, a position that may have felt impossible just months prior. Graduates have gone on to become hired as maintenance workers, construction workers, truck drivers, real estate brokers, and even counselors.

Still, the CVC program is more than just a chance to develop marketable skills. Through shared van rides with work crews, conversations with CVC staff members who serve as mentors, and the simple act of doing something to benefit someone else, participants rebuild their self-worth and make amends to their community.

“It was so huge for me to get outside of myself and help someone else,” a graduate shared on Wednesday.

As a milestone, 100,000 hours, like each CVC graduation ceremony, feels final. But as anyone who has gone through the program will tell you, CVC is—more than anything—about building toward something bigger. Participants can dare to define their futures by possibility and potential rather than their past mistakes.

“Completing CVC gave me permission to believe that I could succeed,” another new graduate said.

Every day, Central City Concern engages people who are finding stability and looking to give back and get better. Because of them, the Community Volunteer Corps has no plans to stop at 100,000 hours, or 1,001 graduates, or 32 partners. There’s too much potential out there.

 

 



The Impact of Never Giving Up

Nov 14, 2016

The road has been long. It’s been bumpy. It’s been forked. And sometimes, it’s even been closed. But when Keva S. makes up her mind to start something… she finishes. A 2016 graduate of Oregon Health & Science University, Keva is now employed as a Physician Assistant at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic. She’s come a long way since getting clean and sober ten years ago.

As a child, bouncing between an alcoholic mother, a cocaine-addicted father, and foster care in Michigan, Keva couldn’t count on where she and her two younger brothers would be sleeping next. As a young adult, she moved to Portland, where an unstable and unhealthy lifestyle continued. After enduring years of addiction, illness, violence, and eventually homelessness, Keva checked into Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox. Soon after, she received a key to a tiny Central City Concern apartment and entered Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor program. There, “the world just flipped,” Keva says.

With new confidence and hope for the future, Keva engaged in Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center. An employment specialist helped her put together a résumé and look for a job. Soon Keva found a program that allowed her to earn certification as a phlebotomist. For the next seven years, she worked at a hospital, drawing blood. But Keva wanted to go further.

Watching resident medical students do rounds in the hospital where she worked inspired Keva to enroll in a pre- med program at Portland State University. A presentation she saw on homelessness and the need for Physician Assistants piqued her interest. So she set her sights on OHSU.

In 2014, Keva was one of 1,300 applicants for 42 spots in OHSU’s Physician Assistant program. Not only did she get in, she was a unanimous choice and received a scholarship.

In August, Keva graduated from OHSU and applied to work at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic. Explaining her motivation for wanting to work at Old Town Clinic, Keva shares, “When you’re a homeless addict, not many people are nice to you. And I had had lots of health problems, so I got to see lots of doctors at lots of hospitals and clinics. The people at Old Town Clinic were the only ones that treated me with respect. They were nice to me. They were willing to see me when I didn’t have money, or insurance, or anything else—and just needed health care. That was huge to me.”

Keva’s first day was September 6, 2016. She started seeing patients in October. She believes her experience overcoming addiction and homelessness will give her unique insight into her new profession—working with people who may not have any money, or insurance, or anything else. “Despite all the resources that it takes, it pays off,” she says. “When you look at somebody like me, and the medical bills I would have had, and that eventually I would have ended up in jail … I would have needed public support forever, until my death. None of that happened. All of that money that would have been spent supporting me just to sustain my addiction didn’t happen because Central City Concern offered me help. And so instead, I’ve gotten to turn everything around. And make money, and donate money, and be productive, and give back.

“Central City Concern on an urgent level, stabilized me. They provided me with a home, so that I could go to treatment every day, and so that I could get that process started. They gave me a mentor. They gave me a whole team of people who told me I could do things when I didn’t think I could. They gave me back dignity. They gave me a life. They gave me the opportunity to hope for a life.

“Now I’m going to try and give that opportunity to other people.”