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.”