Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

Yesterday's blog post focusing on the Central City Concern employees who earned diplomas in the past year shared a few lines from the written remarks of one of the graduates, Kari Fiori. However, we found her whole statement to be so encouraging, inspirational, and indicative of the strength and compassion of our employees that we decided to share it in full.

• • •

Lynda Williams [of the Recovery Mentor Program] plucked me from De Paul Treatment Center over six years ago, giving me the chance to continue my "adult time out" at the Recovery Mentor Program. I desperately needed it. I wasn't ready to go back into the workforce, and knowing my history with relapse, I simply wanted to continue focusing on my recovery. I needed to get the foundation firmly in place, and I wanted to make sure I put nothing in front of the importance of not picking up, one day at a time.

Going out with the Community Volunteer Corps into the community allowed me to to get a feel for having a schedule and showing up when I was supposed to. I was able to get health care at the Old Town Clinic... the first time I'd had access to health care in many years. I went to a lot of 12 step meetings and did a lot of soul searching while I was in the Mentor Program. One thing I knew is that I wanted to get a bachelor's degree. I'd always been a good student, but my addiction didn't allow me to finish school. Every time I relapsed, I dropped my classes. Eventually, I gave up my dream of college, convinced I'd never stay clean or get a degree.

I decided to go back to school when I had two years clean and sober. I chose two years simply because I didn't want to focus on anything except not picking up for that amount of time (an amount of time I'd never been able to put together before). I was glad I waited because it was overwhelming and scary and, had I not had the recovery tools I'd gained during my first two years clean, I don't know if I'd have remembered that my recovery was my number one priority. Luckily, I did remember.

I picked Public Health as a major because it was a large umbrella that touched on so many things I care about deeply: the environment, personal health, city planning, community, etc. I never realized how political Public Health as a topic was until I started really learning about what goes into keeping us safe and healthy. I don't have to tell you how so many public programs live and die by the local, state and federal budgets passed.

During my first couple of years of school, I survived by cleaning houses. I had a decent little business built up, but the work was difficult for my middle-aged body. I still had no idea what career I was headed for, I only knew that I wanted to follow my heart and major in something that mattered to me.

One day, as I was walking across the campus, I got a call from Lynda Williams, the female Mentor at the Recovery Mentor Program. She told me that, because of the Affordable Care Act, the Mentor Program was going to expand, and would I be interested in applying for the new female Mentor position? It was a no-brainer! Of course I wanted to, and I did.

It's been two years now that I've been working as the evening and weekend Mentor at both the Estate and the Madrona Mentor Programs. It's like a dream job: I get to welcome our newest clients and talk to them about recovery and take them to meetings. Working for Central City Concern is such an honor. The work we all do affects the health of so many people, and those effects are felt not only by our clients, but by their family members and loved ones, as well.

Homes, Health, and Jobs is what it says on the CCC logo. Getting people off the streets, providing them with medical care in a place that treats them as valued members of the community, offering people a chance to get clean one more time, providing valuable mental health services, offering training and jobs through Clean and Safe and the on call positions, providing both Housing First and abstinence-based recovery programs in order to help the most people... these things and more are the things Central City Concern does that make the public's health better here in Portland.

I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the CCC workforce. Having benefited from services at a time I so desperately needed help has made me a true believer. I always tell our clients, "You are in a good place. You lucked out!" because I know it's true. I can't believe how much I lucked out, landing a job in the field I chose as my major before I even finished college! I don't know where I'll end up in five or ten years, career-wise. I only know that I plan on staying within the CCC family.

I'm so happy I'm getting my bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California. This coming Sunday I'll be walking in Portland State's commencement ceremony. My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.



Moving Forward with Persistence & Determination

Jun 20, 2017

Freda Ceaser, Director of Employment Services, told the graduates, Representatives from local colleges and universities with whom CCC partners to provide scholarships were recognized.
Next

On Tuesday, June 13, CCC recognized 16 employees who earned diplomas ranging from a GED to master’s degrees, and awarded scholarships to 12 employees continuing their studies in higher education. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

“If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” –Maya Angelou

Central City Concern (CCC) has a work culture based on compassion. A huge component of our day-to-day experience is promoting learning, both in ourselves as well as the people we serve. Every June for the last four years, CCC has honored the self-motivated learners who work for our agency and have pursued formal education on their own time.

This year, on Tuesday, June 13, CCC recognized 16 employees who earned diplomas ranging from a GED to master’s degrees, and awarded scholarships to 12 employees who are continuing their studies in higher education. CCC partners with local colleges and universities to provide monetary help for selected students/employees.

The commencement ceremony featured words of congratulation and encouragement from Joe Chapman, CCC’s chief human resources officer, who told the participants, “you exemplify two important factors: persistence and determination.” Amanda McGovern, CCC paralegal and scholarship recipient, quoted inspiring words from Maya Angelou. And Freda Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services, told her story of coming to CCC from prison, working her way up to a director position, raising a family, and gaining her college degree at the same time. “If I can do it,” she assured, “anyone can do it.”

One graduate, Kari Fiori, a CCC recovery peer mentor for the Recovery Mentor Program, received her BS in Public Health from Portland State University. She couldn’t attend the CCC commencement but sent written remarks: “I'm so happy I'm getting my Bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California,” she wrote. “My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.”

Another graduate, Jay McIntyre, received his BS in Portland State University’s Management and Leadership program. Jay is CCC’s Clean and Safe/Clean Start Program Manager. He first came to CCC as a recovering client in 2007 when he moved into the Estate building and got involved with CCC’s Employment Access Center.

Jay started working at CCC in January 2008 as an on-call janitor. He quickly got a regular position turning over rooms, and was then promoted to a Janitor 2 position with more responsibility. “I was grateful for a job, but I knew my potential was more,” Jay said. “I had my GED and needed to go back to school to get further in life.”

He applied to PSU in 2014 and dove into the program with help from his parents and grants. “A CCC/PSU scholarship covered the gap in tuition and books for two years,” Jay said. “It was a godsend. I am so grateful for the opportunity. It’s fantastic to get to the next level.”

Jay and his wife, who also came through CCC programs, have a blended family of five children and now own their own home. His daughter graduated from high school this month. For the last three years, Jay has spent every weekend on school work; he’s looking forward to having more time with his family. “I was doing it for me and so my family has a better life,” he said. Fittingly, he graduated on Father’s Day. “I started with a little goal plus another little goal; eventually they all add up. Once you get that self-confidence, you can reach for the stars.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: New Volunteer Manager Edition!

Jun 01, 2017

For this month’s volunteer spotlight I’m going to be interviewing myself, Peter Russell, to introduce myself to you as the new Volunteer Manager for Central City Concern. I’m very excited to be working with the organization and to be able to work with all the volunteers who support what we do. I’ll be turning the spotlight back over to our volunteers later this month, but for the time being, here’s a little more about me!

• • •

What is your background working with volunteers?
I have coordinated or worked with volunteers in a variety of different roles over the last few years. Primarily, I spent the last two years working with Habitat for Humanity as the assistant manager at one of the Portland area ReStores. In this role, I was the store’s volunteer coordinator in addition to my work managing the store. I also helped train volunteers during my time as an intern with the National Eating Disorder Association and have directed some volunteer theater productions too!

What is it that you enjoy about working with volunteers?
So many things! I love the sense of community that gets built up around a volunteer workforce. There is a deep sense of caring and compassion that drives people to volunteer. I think one can see that not only in the work that is done by volunteers, but how volunteers help the people they work with to develop and grow as well. I have been able to learn so much from the people I have worked with as volunteers, as there can be such a wide diversity of skills within a group of volunteers. I also really enjoy the feeling that everyone is working together with the same goal in mind: to engage with your community and to help it change and grow in a positive way.

What are you looking forward to about working with Central City Concern’s volunteers?
I love that there are so many different ways that volunteers can be involved in the work that the organization does. Not only does this provide so many opportunities for me to learn new things (which is one of my favorite things to do), but it also means that we can engage with a large variety of future volunteers. The possibilities for growing the ways in which volunteers assist with our operations seem fairly boundless, so I am also very excited to start to dream up new ways in which we can involve people.

What do you like to do when you are not working with volunteers?
In my spare time I do some volunteering of my own, but I also am a serious dabbler in the creative arts. I bounce between writing music, short stories, films, and other things in between. I also love to be outdoors and go on hikes, so I’m very excited that the weather has finally started to turn. As a lifelong vegetarian, I also enjoy cooking (and eating). I can’t say I’m very good at it, but I enjoy it nonetheless!

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Getting the Most out of Life

May 30, 2017

I lost my kids at 26 years old. They were ages eight, seven, and three. The only one I got to keep was the one I was pregnant with. I turned 27 in jail, the baby due in three months, and nowhere to go when I got out. That’s when I turned to Central City Concern. Having been in my addiction on and off for 12 years, in and out of jail, homeless, and unable to take care of myself, let alone three little kids and a newborn, I was out of options. While in jail, someone told me about Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center (a residential treatment program for pregnant women and those with young children).


I entered treatment on March 3, 2011—the day I stopped harming myself, and started healing. Going into an in-patient program was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There were schedules, expectations, lots of sharing, and so much emphasis on accountability and self-care. I gave birth to my son Tristyn while at Letty Owings Center. He was baby number 232 born to a clean and sober mother while at Letty Owings. I was so proud to be that mother. Tristyn was healthy, and I was fully committed to learning how to be the mom he needed. Letty Owings Center exposed me to a different way of thinking and gave me new skills like planning, healthy meal preparation, money management, handing conflicts in a respectful way, positive parenting, and patience. I used a lot of the tools they taught me while I attended ongoing treatment sessions and I still use the tools today. I learned to accept help, to live life on life’s terms, and most of all I learned how to stay positive and what it takes to be a good parent. The experience I got at Letty Owings Center set me free to seek a better life for me and my family.

After I completed in-patient treatment, Central City Concern provided Tristyn and me with a studio apartment at Laura’s Place (three to six months of transitional housing for women who complete treatment at Letty Owings Center). There was more flexibility at Laura’s Place but I still had a lot of work to do on myself so I stayed on a schedule and didn’t rush the healing process. I tried to remember everything I learned at Letty Owings Center and every day, I managed my life better and better. I did outpatient treatment at Central City Concern Recovery Center four times a week. I went to recovery meetings, mental health appointments, and made an effort to listen to others. I didn’t have to fake it anymore, or be afraid, because I was actually learning how to function in society. I wanted success and I wanted to get all my kids back so I could show them a different way of life than what we had during my addiction. I was inspired by other women who were facing similar challenges, and gained confidence every day. When a bigger unit became available, my daughter Cheyenne, who’d been in foster care for a year, was able to come live with us. Life was improving.

We lived at Laura’s Place for four months and then I was given the opportunity to move into a Central City Concern family housing community. That’s when my son Ellias and my daughter Reyna got to move in. I was drug- and alcohol-free, physically and mentally thriving, and had all four of my children under the same roof. The support I got while in family housing was amazing. I had a mentor who I still keep in touch with today. She helped me through the death of my best friend, and motivated me to keep making healthy decisions. I was able to go back to school and pursue a promising future—one that I was given the freedom to envision while in safe and secure Central City Concern family housing. 

Through it all, housing played the biggest role in my transformation. Housing was the first stable piece. Once I had housing I was able to work on everything else—my recovery, going to school, paying off student loans, getting employed and off public assistance, doing therapy with my children, and teaching my kids right from wrong. I was able to move from one step to the next, not out of desperation but out of growth and informed thinking. If you don’t have a place to call home, it’s hard to get any traction. 

Housing gave me peace of mind because I knew where my kids and I were going to be sleeping every night. It gave me a safe place to start getting the most out of life. I want to be a good mom for so many reasons. Most of all because my kids deserve it. I put them through the wringer with unpredictable behavior, foster care, and not being there when they needed me.

I want them to know that your past doesn’t have to be your future. I want them to know that life doesn’t have to involve a screaming mom. They’ve been so resilient and I am so proud. My kids are smart, respectful, and well behaved—not what you would expect after what they’ve been through. Today, they would describe me as strict, fair, and fun. I feel like that describes a good mom.

Every day I look in the mirror and I’m amazed: I look calm, I look happy and I look in control of my life. There are still challenges, but I take them on with a clear head—one day at a time. Six years ago I could not have imagined that I would be the person I am today. I’ve earned an Associate’s degree and am currently in school working toward a Bachelor’s in Human Development. I could not imagine that all four kids would be with me and that I would have my driver’s license back and that I would be where I’m at education wise, career wise, and family wise. Every single step I’ve taken along the way was fundamental in getting me where I am today. It all became possible when I was offered housing and got the support I needed in order to grow into the person my kids can count on. It all became possible through Central City Concern.



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.



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.”

 



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.”



Positive response: Central City Concern’s Crisis Team

Oct 27, 2016

About five years ago, Central City Concern leadership wanted to provide the best assistance to clients in need, but was equally concerned about the emotional toll on staff members responding to crisis. Our mission is based on finding the positive in every person and situation. But because we are a large organization serving many people, things happen. Our staff—often alone and unprepared—had to deal with intense situations involving distressed, and sometimes traumatized, people.

In 2012, CCC’s Director of Equity and Inclusion Sonja Ervin looked for a better way to respond to incidents that protected clients and staff. “How do you support people and make them feel safe?” she wondered. She proposed a new Crisis Team model, which consists of “primary” contacts who carry the crisis phone for a week at a time, 24/7. There is also a “secondary” supervisor to support the primary contact and go on scene with them in cases of physical and emotional trauma. Crisis Team responders, usually six to eight people rotating through a year, come from across the agency’s housing, employment and health care programs. It is a paid on-call position that is above and beyond their regular jobs.

“It’s really meaningful work,” says Freda Ceaser, CCC’s Employment Access Center director, who has been on the Crisis Team close to three years. “It can be hard, but I feel completely supported by CCC.” Most of the crises, such as elevator problems, water issues and minor disturbances, can be handled over the phone. But sadly, physical and emotional traumas, including deaths, are among the crises that the team responds to in person. But the crisis responders always arrive together to support each other and everyone else who has been affected by the event.

Since it began, the Crisis Team responders, now led by Dana Brandon, CCC’s director of Supportive Housing, have answered the call to hundreds of incidents, large and small, at all hours of the day and night. Their only goal is to help people get through it. “The Crisis Team is peer support, peer driven, and they have no other agenda than to be there,” Sonja says. “They really do it from the heart.”



CCC Outreach Workers Fill Gaps in Health Care

Oct 21, 2016

On Monday, PBS Newhour aired a fascinating and insightful segment on the rise of utilizing community health workers—already popular in other parts of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa—to better serve vulnerable and hard-to-reach patients. (You can watch the video above or on the PBS website.) As the segment makes clear, community health workers play a vital role in helping patients improve their health.

At Central City Concern, a number of our specialized health care programs rely on Outreach Workers to engage those we serve in direct, meaningful ways that truly exemplify our commitment to meeting patients where they are.

The Community Health Outreach Workers (CHOW) team works to bring individuals who are newly enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan (Oregon’s state Medicaid program) into our Primary Care Home, where patients can find barrier-free access, team-based care, integrated mental health and addiction treatment, and additional wellness resources. They’ve also been working with the care teams at Old Town Recovery Center, CCC’s mental health clinic, to help their clients get connected with primary care.

CHOW team members may meet people on the street, at shelters or hospitals, or in their own homes, and often check in with patients to ensure that they are engaged comfortably into the care available to them.

Members of the CCC Health Improvement Projects (CHIPs) team, also known as our Health Resilience Specialists, are embedded in the four main care teams at CCC’s Old Town Clinic (OTC). CHIPs team member work closely with OTC patients (what we call “high touch” support) who have shown a high rate of hospital emergency utilization, helping them decrease unnecessary hospital use by providing intensive case management and addressing social determinants of health. CHIPs team members meet patients at home, on the street, in the hospital, or wherever else the patient needs engagement to happen most.

For those already living in our housing, CCC’s Housed + Healthy team provides a direct pipeline from housing to CCC health care. By performing a needs assessment with new residents as they move into their CCC home, the Housed + Healthy team can identify high needs residents who have gaps in their health care support. The Housed + Healthy team can streamline the referral processes to connect residents to care and even increase coordination between service providers. Further, our Housed + Healthy team provides on-site wellness education programming to encourage healthy living.

The work and impact of Outreach Workers are so important that they can be found beyond the three teams we highlighted here; programs like CCC's Bud Clark Clinic, among others, also lean on Outreach Workers to build relationships with those who are vulnerable in order to connect them with basic health care and services.

The flexibility of CCC’s Outreach Workers allows them to bring care and compassion to our patients. Maintaining and improving health outcomes takes work outside clinic walls, and our Outreach Workers are there to walk that journey with those we serve!



CCC Celebrates National Health Center Week 2016!

Aug 08, 2016

“We choose to go to the moon … not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in September 1962 captured the tone of the United States. It was a time of extraordinary innovation, responding to deep and complex societal problems. Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society initiative brought us education reform and the earliest roots of community health centers, which we celebrate this week during National Health Center Week. Civil rights leaders like Malcolm X, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers, among many others, led the movement against Jim Crow and socially and legally institutionalized racism. Stonewall birthed a new age of LGBTQ activism, while second-wave feminism brought us Titles IX and X and a sea change in societal attitudes toward women.

Today, we face a different but no less daunting set of social ills. Homelessness and poverty, along with the deeply entrenched social and economic disparities that drive them, are problems of such breadth and depth that they can seem immovable. Social planners and others talk about the concept of wicked problems, not merely hard problems that can be solved with enough resources and time, but deeply complex and interdependent problems with no clear causes or easy solutions. Wicked problems challenge us to think with creativity and clarity, to work collaboratively, and to be willing to try harder every day. They are problems of such scale and urgency that we can do no less than bring our very best.

At Central City Concern, our 800 employees, together with the 10,000 people we are privileged to serve every year and our many community partners, are deeply motivated by the wicked problems of homelessness and poverty: challenges that cannot be postponed and must be won. Working with limited resources to solve problems that may seem unsolvable, rather than being Sisyphean, inspires (and requires) us to innovate every day.

In celebration of National Health Center Week, we are profiling Central City Concern staff, patients, and programs within our Federally Qualified Health Center sites who are working to develop innovative and thoughtful solutions to the complex problems we face in community health work. These profiles represent some of the best of what our organization has to offer. I challenge you all to address your problems, no matter how great or small, with the strength of innovation.

Leslie Tallyn
Chief Clinical Operations Officer

• • •

Visit These Profiles of Innovation at Central City Concern!