A Second Chance to Make Downtown Memories

Monday, October 05, 2015

On Friday, October 2nd, in Downtown Portland, the Clean & Safe District, managed by Portland Business Alliance, honored Central City Concern employee Chris Perkins as the 2015 Clean & Safe Cleaner of the Year. Officer Stephan Marshall was announced as the Security Officer of the Year while the late Vic Rhodes was recognized as this year's Downtown Champion.

Scan the crowds of tourists who visit Portland every year and you’ll see thousands of people making memories in our beautiful city. For Chris Perkins, however, every trip up and down the streets of downtown Portland is a chance to redeem old memories he made during darker times.  It wasn’t too long ago when he found himself on these very same streets under very different circumstances – desperate, using drugs, and unsure of what his future held.

“But now on bike duty, I get to go around and reclaim those places.”

“Those places” Chris refers to are the 213 blocks of the downtown area he covers as a Clean & Safe Special Project Bike Operator. He responds by bike to clean up difficult or hazardous messes that other Clean & Safe employees are unequipped to respond to safely or effectively. As one of two Special Project Bike Operators, Chris works the weekends and early morning shifts, providing assurance that calls can be addressed. He performs his job with an attentiveness and an urgency that downtown business owners have quickly grown to appreciate.

Jay McIntyre, Clean & Safe Program Manager, says, “Chris has only one speed: go. We get phone calls from businesses praising his work ethic and his fantastic attitude.”

Chris arrived on the streets of Portland in 2010 after several years of struggling with drug use. Though Chris experienced what he describes as a “pretty normal childhood,” he was forced to grow up quickly. When Chris was a high school sophomore, his father encountered serious health issues that required his sons to become his caretakers. Chris dropped out of high school and earned his GED. Meanwhile, “taking care of my dad became a full-time thing” until 2001, when his father passed away. Chris was in his early 20s.

Chris found a job and proved himself to be a hard worker, working his way up to a managerial position. But he was soon introduced by a co-worker to pills, heroin, and other opiates. What started as experimentation quickly escalated into full-blown addiction.

“My life became unmanageable. My relationships were painful. I also never really dealt with my dad’s passing. He was my life.”

His mother, who had moved to Oregon after separating from Chris’s dad in the early-90s, heard about his descent into addiction. She paid for Chris to enroll in a local faith-based treatment program. Nine months in treatment kept him clean and sober for a while but he soon began using heroin again.

“After treatment, I didn’t do any work like going to meetings and finding accountability that help sustain sobriety.”

Chris’s losses piled up in rapid succession after falling back into old habits: he lost his apartment, broke up with his girlfriend, got fired from his job, and lost the support of his mother.

Directionless and desperate, Chris remembered hearing about a place called Hooper Detox, Central City Concern’s (CCC) inpatient medical detox program. He tried hard to keep up with outpatient treatment at the CCC Recovery Center, but without stable housing, the stress of living outside contributed to multiple relapses. Still, Chris wanted another life. In the days leading up to yet another trip to Hooper, Chris reached the end of his rope.

“I pictured myself in a room. If all I had was a room somewhere, I knew I could stay clean.”

September 19, 2013 was the last time Chris entered Hooper and the last time he was ever under the influence of drugs. After completing treatment at Hooper, he was given the keys to his own room in Central City Concern housing.

“I laid down on the bed and felt relief. I felt safe. It was a small room, but it was mine.”

Chris engaged with the alcohol and drug-free community in CCC’s housing, attended meetings, and kept every outpatient treatment appointment. He found the support of people who were also in recovery. He also enrolled in CCC’s Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) program, which gives people a chance to build skills over the course of 80 volunteer hours.

Once he completed CVC, Chris was hired as a six-month Clean & Safe janitor trainee. There, his old habits – the positive ones that earned him a managerial position years ago – resurfaced. Chris became known for frequently jogging with his cleaning cart to service calls.

“Whatever I’m doing, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”

Due to his enthusiasm and quality of work, Chris was quickly promoted to a permanent janitorial position, a role in which he continued to thrive. He was entrusted to train all new trainees, becoming an insightful mentor to many.

This May, Clean & Safe was ready to add a second Special Projects Bike position to its fleet; Chris was the obvious choice to fill this important position.

“Chris has proved over and over that he’s an asset to CCC, Clean & Safe, and everyone that works in or visits downtown Portland,” McIntyre says.

Chris is now two years clean and sober. After so much loss, he’s made incredible strides to fulfill his potential and rebuild the significance of these streets, block by downtown block.

“I have a job I love that lets me make new memories. I have family and real friends who love me,” Chris says. “I’ve come too far to lose what I’ve regained. There’s a lot more ahead.”