Celebrating Black History Month: Flip the Script

Feb 28, 2018

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern! As the month comes to a close, we’re grateful for the opportunity for our community to learn about, learn from, and celebrate the countless Black heroes and heroines who paved the way for African Americans to live a life of freedom, opportunity and fully realized potential.

As an organization, CCC strives to embody this work that came before us, notably through our programs ensuring our African Americans clients have access to services that recognize and address historic inequities and systemic barriers, while also meeting individualized needs.

Programs like Flip the Script (FTS), a reentry program started in February 2017 that provides individuals exiting incarceration with dedicated housing, employment services, peer support, and opportunities for reentry system advocacy. The program helps people avoid reoffending and eases their path to reintegrating into society as productive community members.

Patrick spent 15 years in prison. After he had served his time, he knew that he'd need support to reintegrate back into society.FTS found its origins in a data collaboration between Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Community Justice, CCC, and a tireless CCC volunteer. The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

Patrick A. was on the cusp of becoming a free man after having spent more than a third of his life—15 years—in prison. When he was released, Patrick immediately came up against barriers to reintegration. Background check issues and employment gaps made it difficult for him to find a job; his lack of rental history made it nearly impossible to find housing. With his criminal history, few people outside his family wanted to reconnect; the ones who did were those still in the game, ready to draw him back in. Without ready paths to housing, employment and new positive relationships, Patrick could have easily been on the wrong side of these recidivism statistics.

The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

But Patrick was intent on choosing a new path. He was resolute on putting his head down and forging ahead, even if that meant feeling isolated. “To me, going back to jail wasn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life was done. I had a game plan in my head.”

He still needed support to get where he wanted to go.

The Multnomah County's Assessment & Referral Center eventually sent Patrick to CCC’s Parole Transition Program (PTP), which included housing at the Shoreline building. At his lease signing, he met a PTP staff member who told him about FTS, which would make him eligible for the CCC Employment Access Center’s (EAC) intensive one-on-one employment services, peer support and other opportunities. Patrick enrolled.

One of the first things a new enrollee like Patrick does is connect with an FTS Employment Specialist, who helps create a customized plan to help each person work toward their employment goals and develops other opportunities to enhance the client’s vocational skills in order to become a competitive job seeker. More determined than ever and invigorated by having a safe place to call home—“I’ve got my own space, so now I can figure out what to do with myself and my next step,” he recalls thinking—Patrick actually secured a job on his own within two days of moving into CCC housing, before he even met with his employment specialist, Elissa.

Patrick’s next goal was to make his way into the local carpenters' union, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he connected with Elissa, in whom he found the type of support he hadn’t felt in a long time. Elissa was able to assist Patrick with FTS resources that helped him pay for his driver’s license fees and work clothes while he continued to make connections at the union.

"That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. "

“I felt supported. That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. They treated me as a person, not just somebody who got out of jail.”

Three months after moving into CCC’s transitional reentry housing, Patrick applied for and received permanent housing, making him part of the 58 percent of FTS clients who exit into permanent housing. (Another 21 percent of FTS clients find another transitional housing opportunity.)

Patrick catches up with Billy A., the FTS advocacy coordinator (left) and Elissa, his employment specialist (right), at CCC's downtown Employment Access Center.

Soon after, Patrick was accepted into Carpenters Local 1503, opening the door for him to make an honest living with good wages. Since FTS started, 45 percent of FTS clients have used the program as a springboard to permanent housing and a source of income. (An additional 9 percent of clients moved into further transitional housing with an income source.)

Recognizing his need for a new network of positive peers, Patrick also connected with the FTS Advocacy Coordinator, Billy, who introduced him to the FTS Advocacy Work Team. Ask any of the dozen FTS clients who participate in this culturally specific group of African Americans and they’ll all agree: there’s something special happening here. When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

Together, they’ve created a survey to help identify areas for improvement and change in both the FTS program and larger landscape of reentry systems and policy. Though they may face barriers to employment and housing based on racial bias or discrimination in the justice system, they see that they’re not alone and feel empowered by the change they can take together. They are actively part of the work to disrupt the system that sets up a disproportionate number of African Americans to experience recidivism.

When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

“[The work group] gives me a chance to help other people and share my understanding as someone coming with firsthand reentry. It’s nice to be around other people going through the same thing you’re going through. And it’s nice that the others have the same understanding. Sometimes you don’t feel like explaining everything and they already understand what you mean,” Patrick says. “It also feels good to be around people who just want to meet you and know you and are just glad you’re doing well."

Initially shy and slow to trust, Patrick is no longer nervous or quiet. Instead, Patrick is confident and outspoken, especially in advocacy matters. He’s an active member of the group, finding a sense of community he’d been missing for so long. He has also reconnected with his family and is working to build relationships again.

“Going back to jail isn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life is done. I feel I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I’ve got a lot left to accomplish. I feel positive and optimistic about my future. I’m eager to see what I’ve got in store.”

• • •

Deep gratitude to Meyer Memorial Trust, A Home for Everyone, Multnomah County, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Deputy Truls Neal and Wells Fargo for their support and belief in this program dedicated to eliminating the disparities that exist within our criminal justice system.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2018 Edition

Feb 27, 2018

This month, we’re turning the spotlight on a part of Central City Concern that hosts almost a quarter of all the volunteers at CCC! With so many great folks to share, we couldn’t pick just one, so this month’s spotlight features two of our dedicated volunteers from the Letty Owings Center (LOC). 

Since LOC’s first days, volunteers have played a large role in bringing activities and extra comforts to the mothers and children who live there. Nerissa Heller, who oversees LOC, had this to say about the value of having volunteers in the program: “Volunteers have supported LOC since its inception in 1989. It truly makes the women in our care feel valued and special to have volunteers take time out of their day to give them positive, caring attention.” 

Our two volunteers this month get to engage with mothers and children in two very different, but equally appreciated, ways. One thing that both of them share is the feeling that volunteership gives them as much if not more than they feel they give. Read on to hear about their work at LOC!

• • •

Megan Hornby

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Two years. We were supporting CCC financially while we were still working, but then when I was full-time retired I wanted to give some time.

What is it that you do as a volunteer? I come in and I help the staff at the nursery by holding babies, playing with the babies, and basically giving them a little help at the end of the week. When they are full with about seven or eight babies, it’s a lot to keep everybody peaceful and happy.

Did you have experience working with kids before volunteering? Yeah, I have a lot of grandchildren, none of whom live in the area, so that’s another reason I like playing with the babies. I also have a background in nursing and working with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children.

What’s kept you coming back to volunteer? Volunteering, I decided, is something that I should really look forward to, otherwise I wasn’t going to be very good at it. So this is just one of my favorite days of the week because I enjoy being with the babies a lot and I enjoy the staff here. The staff are very professional and warm and appreciative. So it’s kind of a win-win. I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer.

Have there been any stand-out moments? I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses of the mothers. They’re pretty impressive. That they’re trying to deal with something that’s as difficult as addictions and at the same time balancing being a young parent. It’s pretty impressive to watch them go through the program and get their lives back on track. They do a lot of hard work to get there.

"I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer."
-Megan H., CCC Volunteer

With your experience in mental health, do you see anything that’s different at CCC than other, similar services? I think the best thing about CCC that’s really unique is that it’s not fragmented so when somebody graduates from the Letty Owings Center, they still have the supports they need to go on to the next phase. They have housing, outpatient treatment, and they don’t get dumped in the system without those critical supports. That’s very unusual in the social services system and I think it’s one of the best things about CCC.

There’s almost a huge loop in that people that are super successful sometimes come back and work [with CCC], which also makes the whole culture of the program very hopeful. [Recovery] is a lifetime of work and here they see some of the staff people who are still working on it, but they’re working and they’re employed and they have homes and a life with real relationships. It’s a very hopeful place.

• • •

June Hensala

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Let’s say two-and-a-half years, to be safe.

What is your volunteer position? I get to go out for coffee! Isn’t that the best job ever? Another friend from church and I come over and pick up a couple gals, and once in a while they have children with them, and we go out and have coffee and visit. I’m not giving any advice, I’m just having coffee with these gals and having a nice time.

Was this something that you and this person started? No, this has been going on for a long time. There was this gal named Carol, who had been with LOC practically since it began, and she volunteered everywhere, but one of the things she did was take a couple mothers out for coffee with another friend. Carol died about three years ago and I had read this book about remembering people, and part of that was remembering them by action. So I’m remembering Carol when I take them out to coffee.

"I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, 'We like to have you for coffee.'"
-June H., CCC Volunteer

Had you worked with kids or families prior to your volunteership? Well, indirectly. I was a nurse and so I was trained in caring for others and noticing others. When I raised my kids, I did Cub Scouts and the like, but I’m 80 years old now, so that’s one of the things I like about going to LOC is seeing gals that are in their 20s and getting to talk to somebody that is a different age. Our society separates people so much, so I really like that contact with the younger generation.

What do you feel the benefit is for the clients who are going out to coffee? Well, often we get the gals that are just new to LOC, so they don’t have a routine yet and they’re also dealing with the early stages of recovery. So we give some encouragement, but I think the gain is really more on my part. I gain a lot out of it, really. I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, “We like to have you for coffee.” It was such a caring, wonderful thing.

Have there been any stand out moments? I’m always very impressed with how caring the girls are to each other. It’s not just the staff, the girls seem to help each other. They share, they encourage one another, and they say, “Oh, we’re buddies.” So, I think that’s helpful if you know somebody’s going through the same thing you are.

Their feeling of hope I’ve been impressed with, as well. [They’ll say], “This is a wonderful place, this is a good place. The staff is good here,” not, “Oh, this is really hard.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer? Well, I get rewarded for it. I’ve always felt a very strong trust in God all my life and I feel like God puts me places where I get the most out of it. And every day I fill up with God’s love, and I have to do that, so I can then go out and love others. And I’ve liked all the girls. At first, I thought, “Oh maybe there will be somebody there that’s a bit too wild,” but they’re not. They’ve just been wonderful girls that have experienced addiction.

I’m also in the quilting group at my church and we make quilts for all the Letty Owing Center clients. When they graduate [the program] they each get a quilt. So that keeps me involved, and it keeps the church involved as well.

And it really broadens your life scope. I’m retired and you just get isolated by that. Volunteering takes you out of your world and pushes you somewhere else. It’s nice to see a lot of good, and it’s what I’ve seen. It’s been a really positive experience.



Portland-area Black History Month Events

Feb 07, 2018

As part of Central City Concern's celebration of Black History Month, we want to share with you a number of exciting events taking place throughout February in the Portland area. Many of these events are free and appropriate for all ages. We encourage you to explore the richness of Black history by attending some of these events! Most descriptions are from the event hosts; click on the link to access the event's official page for more information.

Cascade Festival of African Films, February 2 – March 3, 2018: "A wildly popular film festival that has become synonymous with the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College. The Cascade Festival of African Films honors the art and craft of filmmaking from that continent. The movies imported for the festival draw capacity crowds each February. All films are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis." (Link)

Black History Festival NW, throughout February: The festival is a "region-wide event taking place during the month of February in different locations spanning as far east as Troutdale and west to Beaverton, south to Eugene and north to Vancouver Wa. Each weekend has an event highlighting and celebrating the African-American experience presented by African-American organizations, artists, small businesses, and leaders." (Link

Black History Film Fest hosted by St. Johns Library, throughout February: During the month of February, St. Johns Library will screen four movies that highlight and uplift the Black experience in America. (Link)

PDX Jazz Festival, February 18 through February 25: "The PDX Jazz Festival arrives each and every February to recognize Black History Month, and to remind Portlanders and our many out of town guests what a rich and robust Jazz experience we offer. With upwards of 100 paid and ticketed events over 11 days, there are ambitious programs that will warm the heart and swing your soul." (Link)

Black Arts Festival, February 17: Hosted by Reed College, celebrate Black Diasporic culture, contributions, and life with the inaugural Black Arts Festival! Free and open to the public, the festival will feature headlining artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, with opening acts Brown Calculus and Maarquii. In addition to black and brown vendors who will be selling a variety of goods including vintage clothing, jewelry, and essential oils, the events will also feature a DJ and savory Afro-Latinx eats catered by Platano Rising. (Link)

African American Read In hosted by North Portland Library, February 18: "Celebrate Black History Month with Black literature! Join us as community leaders, teachers, students, and local celebrities read from their favorite works by African American writers. Fiction and nonfiction for children, teens and adults will be featured in a special gathering of good words from great writings. Community members are also encouraged to come and share words from their favorite works." (Link)

PDX Black Film Festival, throughout February: This month-long event "aims to offer diverse perspectives and stories in an art form all too often dominated by white filmmakers. The festival features films which showcase the cinematic achievements of African American stars and filmmakers and examine the black experience in America." (Link)

Racing to Change: Oregon's Civil Rights Years, now through June 24, 2018: "Racing to Change illuminates the Civil Rights Movement in Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural and social upheaval, conflict, and change. The era brought new militant voices into a clash with traditional organizations of power, both Black and White.

"Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will engage in the examination of the repression and violence against African Americans that made the Civil Rights Movement necessary. The exhibit explores how racist attitudes, policies of exclusion, and the destruction of Black-owned neighborhoods shaped Oregon, as well as the unceasing efforts of the Black community to overcome these obstacles." (Link)