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.



Olympia Provisions: Making First-rate Meats, Providing Second-chance Careers

Jan 23, 2018

Central City Concern (CCC) takes great care in building relationships with great employers. Our Employment Access Center assisted 1,126 job seekers in 2017, and several of them have gone to work for a fantastic partner: Olympia Provisions.

“Olympia Provisions is committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and our environment,” says Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader. “So we work with CCC to help people find new chances and new opportunities to do good work that they can be proud of. We have had great success with multiple employees who were hired with limited knowledge of meat processing, USDA factory sanitation and/or restaurant operations.”

Olympia Provisions and CCC have been working together on-and-off for about five years, placing people who may have had barriers to employment in the past such as substance use disorders, criminal justice issues or homelessness. Cheryl M. found her position at Olympia Provisions through CCC’s Employment Access Center. She describes her past work experience as “poor,” so she was especially happy to get a job as restaurant dishwasher there in August 2017.

"We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals."
-Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader

Getting a job at Olympia Provisions is a great move for anyone. Taylor says their work environment is relaxed, positive and focused on producing the best product possible, every time. “We have fun and we get it done,” he says. “We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals. There is ample room for vertical growth for those who are motivated and diligent. We offer competitive wages, generous paid time off, health benefits, an Employee Assistance Program, discounts around Portland, free shares of delicious meats and free cooked lunch every day!”

Cheryl says, “My favorite things about working there are the people and the atmosphere. I really enjoy working there a lot.”

Olympia Provisions, founded in 2009, is a team of dedicated employees who craft the finest award-winning charcuterie (prepared meats such as salami and pate) in the world and provide unrivaled customer service at five restaurant locations around Portland. “We are known in households, restaurants and grocery stores as the premier makers of authentic, old-world charcuterie. Our vision is to make the world better through food and to make people happy. We are doing this by being obsessed with quality, relentlessly pursuing mastery in our professional positions, and being committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and the environment.”

Anyone who has sampled Olympia Provision’s delicious products can taste the care and devotion the company has to their work. CCC is grateful to have them for a partner, and the feeling is mutual.

“Over the years employees who come to us from CCC have demonstrated reliability, initiative and positive can-do attitudes,” Taylor says. “As such, they have been promoted through the ranks to supervisor and management positions. We'd like to find more excellent employees like them!”

To learn more about Olympia Provisions, visit their website.



Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start

Jan 22, 2018

The following article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Hey Neighbor!, a free publication from Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN). Many thanks to NECN for recognizing and sharing the work of Central City Concern's expanding Clean Start PDX program!

• • •

Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start
By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

On a Monday morning, J.P. King starts up the engine to his pick-up truck and heads across the river from Old Town to the Inner Eastside. As the lead crew member of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods’ (NECN) pilot program, Clean Start PDX, he will spend the day making the rounds to various outdoor encampments in the inner northeast area, and working with the residents there. He cleans up abandoned camps, provides garbage bags and other cleaning supplies to active sites, and removes debris as needed. But to J.P., it’s the one-on-one contact with residents that makes the real difference, whether it’s directing people to shelters or connecting them with other resources in the city. “I know everyone in these camps by name,“ he says. “They know I’m here to help.”

The program began last year when Adam Lyons, Executive Director of NECN, was hearing from community members about the increase in trash and debris on roadsides, along with an increase in campers. “It’s a livability issue,” he says. “But it’s also a symptom of a much greater problem.” So, in partnership with Central City Concern, the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Eliot Neighborhood Association, NECN secured funding from the city to address the issue in the inner eastside core.

Based on the same model that the Clean and Safe program uses, the idea isn’t to enforce camping policies for the city, but rather to help make the city cleaner and nicer for everyone who lives here. In fewer than six months of operation, it’s making a big impact: between August and October alone, J.P. and his Clean Start PDX crew have cleaned up 149 camps which included nearly 2000 bags of trash and 779 needles, and all manner of bio-hazardous materials.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Clean and Safe and Clean Start PDX is that it’s tackling multiple issues at once. It’s not just a cleaning service for the city streets, but is in fact a job-training and skills-building program to help individuals with a history of homelessness, addiction, or incarceration build a better future. “The program is a triple win,” says Jay McIntyre, program manager for Clean and Safe and chief liaison for Clean Start. “It’s a win for our employees, it’s a win for the people experiencing homelessness, and it’s a win for these neighborhoods.”

Looking forward, NECN hopes to use this model as a template for helping other neighborhoods do the same. “We’re trying to be proactive in solving a problem that most residents say is top of their list of concerns in Portland,” says Lyons. But he is quick to point out that, in so many words, it takes a village: “This isn’t an isolated problem, or one that’s unique to Portland. It’s complex and difficult, and it’s important that we as neighbors, businesses owners, and especially city officials take charge and try solutions instead of just throwing our hands up in frustration. It’s up to all of us to make this city the one we want to live in.”



"It’s overwhelming at times, in a good way"

Jan 16, 2018

Working at Central City Coffee after nearly two-and-a-half years of recovery, Christina S. learned new skills, trained others, supported her family and built a new life. “I know myself and I love myself for the first time ever in my life, really, that I can ever remember. And it seems that things get better and better and better.”

On Mondays, she and a crew of four others prepared bags of coffee in Old Town Portland. Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays, too, were for production, with delivery throughout the Portland metro area the rest of the week. “It’s been amazing to learn all kinds of different things completely out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But also really nerve-wracking and overwhelming at first.” Training other people felt especially great: “My self-confidence, everything has been boosted, I feel just better about myself.”

Christina built up that self-confidence in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps and outpatient treatment, which she says taught her “you need to complete things, that if you sign up for something to see it out and finish it.” The same quiet confidence comes through when she speaks about parenting her five children and one grandchild now that she’s in recovery. When asked if she feels she’s a resource and support for other people, she laughs: “Yeah, which is weird.”

Although she grew up with addiction in her family, she says “nobody talked about it,” even after her father died of an overdose. As her own addiction progressed, it took away her career, her housing, and her children. “That’s when I knew I had a problem,” she says, “when I walked away from my kids.” Talking about those years is not easy for her, but she insists it’s vital to not hide addiction or keep it a secret. “We need to talk about it to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different.”

"We need to talk about [addiction] to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different."
-Christina

Breaking these family patterns has been the common thread to the challenges she’s faced in recovery, which she names without hesitation: “Talking to other people. Opening up. Adjusting to my kids. Adjusting to myself.” She feels she learned the tools she needed in CCC’s outpatient treatment, while CCC’s supportive housing gave her the necessary time and space. Remembering her early recovery, she smiles and says people told her “that once I started talking, I’d get really red-faced, and I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. But then slowly but surely my voice was there. I finally had a voice.” Coming off the streets, she first found shelter in CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. From there, she moved into transitional recovery housing and then into drug-and-alcohol-free housing for families with children. That housing was crucial, she says, for her to slowly rebuild trust with her children and bring her family back together. “I feel safe there and I know that I have people I can always count on and always go to.”

Christina’s cheerful, matter-of-fact style gives way to powerful feelings when she talks about her life in recovery. “It’s emotional,” she says, “because I feel so strongly about what’s happened, and I’m so grateful and blessed that all these things have happened. And for who I am now. I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me. And it’s overwhelming at times, in a good way.”

"I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me."

Toward the end of her Central City Coffee training period, Christina joined the HealthCareers Northwest WorkSource program through CCC’s Employment Access Center. HealthCareers Northwest is a funding program that enabled Christina to return to school and earned her Certified Nursing Assistant 2 certificate. In January 2018, she quickly got a job at a local long-term acute care hospital, and is now thrilled to be working in an exciting field with plenty of career potential. “I really think I’d like to be a nurse someday,” Christina said. “I think I can do it.”



Adding it up for the better

Dec 19, 2017

My name is Robert. On April 17, 2007, I gave up drugs, alcohol, and hopelessness. I began to take control of my life. The process hasn’t been easy, and there has been failure along the way, but one of the biggest lessons I learned while working with Central City Concern, is that you must keep moving forward. Central City Concern helped me discover the curiosity of a boy again, and that’s how I uncovered my true calling—I am a teacher.

As a child, I was in the foster care system, bouncing from Portland to Colorado to California to Kansas City and back. I was in and out of my mother’s house, my grandmother’s house, and a lot of unsafe places along the way. Every time I thought I could settle in, I was uprooted again. No foundation. No consistency. No stability. I was never in one place long enough to call it home.

During my teenage years I finally landed back at my mother’s house permanently. She fed me. She clothed me. She told me to go to school. But there was no nurturing. There was no encouragement or positive modeling behavior. Mom was tormented by her own issues, and I was on my own.

While at school, I detached. I struggled in and out of the classroom, unable to find anywhere to fit in. I began to use drugs and my habit quickly escalated into addiction. Drugs were an addition to the facade I’d been presenting for years. I was always trying to be someone else . . . someone who I thought was more interesting and entertaining. I became a people pleaser. I became the guy who made everyone else feel at ease. But I could never feel at ease, myself. Addiction and homelessness ruled my life for the next 20 years.

The only constant over that time was my grandmother. She was always there for me no matter what. For a period, when I was deep in my addiction, I was staying at her house. She was patient, but constantly reminded me: “Boy, you know you’re better.” Those words haunted me, and ultimately motivated me to seek help from Central City Concern. Her belief in me continues to be an inspiration to this day.

My transformation started in 2007, when Central City Concern set me up in one of their downtown apartments. I’d been sleeping behind dumpsters and couch-surfing until I was handed those keys.

”I uncovered my true calling – I am a teacher.”

Housing was the pivotal piece to me staying clean and sober. Just knowing that I would be able to go into my own apartment and lock the door behind me made all the difference.

I felt safe. I finally had a place to call home. I started to trust people, and with the help of many, I gained confidence in myself. I was able to engage in recovery meetings in my building, and was supported by on-site treatment counselors. I stayed in CCC housing for just over three years, which gave me the time and space to improve my life.

Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center (EAC) offered the support I needed to pursue an education, and a career. I worked one-on-one with an employment specialist. There were job readiness classes, mock interviews, and I learned about the importance of first impressions and being professional. The EAC staff gave me clothes for job interviews and everybody there played an important role in my success.

My employment specialist helped me get a job working in construction, but I was laid off during the recession in 2009. I kept moving forward though, and at the urging of my employment specialist, I enrolled in Portland Community College (PCC). While in school, an instructor encouraged me to push myself in the field of mathematics. I took his advice, and a few years later, graduated near the top of my class.

Today I work as a math tutor at Portland Community College. Being in that role has helped me learn how to be of service to others—how to work with people to find different ways to solve problems.

”I have a purpose... a passion... perspective.”

Along with tutoring at PCC, I’m doing a practicum at a Portland middle school. My goal is to be a full-time middle school math teacher—that’s where I can make the biggest difference. Middle school was when I stopped understanding math, and lost interest in school. Those kids remind me a lot of myself when I was that age. They’re trying to fit in, and at the same time they’re trying to blend into the background. I see a lot of masks. Math is a barrier for many kids and I want to help them get through that. I want to help them shed the masks early in life, and move forward to fulfill their potential.

I will graduate from Portland State University next year, and then pursue my Master’s in education. I have a love for serving others by teaching them how to be comfortable with numbers. Eleven years ago, Central City Concern gave me stability, and the opportunity to identify that love.

I’ve grown. I’m outgoing. I care about others, and I don’t hide the real me anymore. My grandmother was right, and Central City Concern helped me to see that. I will forever be grateful.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: September 2017 Edition

Sep 26, 2017

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we are shining our light on a volunteer who doesn’t often get much of it in her volunteer location. Rebecca Macy has been volunteering for the last five years in the basement of the Employment Access Center (EAC), where she helps maintain a clothing closet for EAC clients who need interview clothing or work wear. Read on to see how Rebecca’s past career as a librarian has informed her work in the clothing closet, how she got in to reuse and recycling, and how an Elvis costume ended up being just what a client needed.

• • •

Rebecca Macy, Central City Concern volunteerPeter: What's your name, and what do you do as a volunteer at Central City Concern?

Rebecca: Rebecca Macy, and my volunteer position is in the clothing closet at the Employment Access Center and I’ve been there for five or six years. I sort through the donations and I’ve set the clothing center up like a store with things sorted so they are easy for people to find.

P: Did you have any experience with retail or clothing before volunteering at the EAC?

R: I worked at Portland Public Schools’ clothing closet, so I got many, many ideas from them.

P: Was that your career?

R: I spent 35 years as an elementary school librarian, so I’ve worked in elementary schools and some public libraries, but mostly elementary schools. They called us a Library Media Specialist, but the kids knew us as the library lady.

After I retired, I did some work in fashion with buying vintage clothes and remaking them. I would take a prom dress and kind of tear it apart and put it back together, so that was my artistic fashion project. I still do a little bit of that, but I also help people clear out their homes or their parents’ homes if they’re downsizing or moving. I started finding that we need to reuse the things that people have that are still usable. A friend of mine calls me “the distributor,” which sounds like a car part, but I take things and get them to people who need them, so CCC was just a real good fit for that.

“Interviewing is hard for anybody, no matter what your work background is. But if you feel like you’re looking pretty good it helps you put your best foot forward.”
- Rebecca, CCC Volunteer

P: How did you find out about us?

R: I first heard about it when I was volunteering for Potluck in the Park with a teen center that I volunteered at in Beaverton. I noticed there was a clothing table there, and I thought, I get people’s clothes all the time, so if I had a pair of shoes or cosmetics [I would bring them there]. Eventually, a CCC person who was working there told me about the EAC.

P: Are there certain items you find yourself consistently needing at the clothing closet?

R: Larger men’s shoes, larger men’s clothing. The people who donated are almost always smaller than the clients. I’ve been looking for a size 15 pair of work boots most of the time I’ve been there.

P: So, you have a range of clothes there, both work wear and interview clothes?

R: Both, yes. When I first started volunteering there, the men were more wearing suits to interviews, but if you’re interviewing for a construction job, a nice sweater and a pair of jeans or khakis is fine. Even in the work world, I think everything is getting a little more causal. So for the men, the things we need are dress shirts, dress pants, and really good khakis and Levi’s. And for women it varies, but it’s similar—dress pants and skirts.

P: What do see as the benefit for the clothing closet?

R: Well, if you have an interview, and all you have is a t-shirt and jeans with holes in them, all the interview training and resume writing you get trained for won’t do you any good. And I think it has to do with confidence, and if you look good, you feel better. Interviewing is hard for anybody, no matter what your work background is. But if you feel like you’re looking pretty good it helps you put your best foot forward.

It’s fun for people to come because sometimes they are kind of shy about how much to take, and I’ll say, “Take what you need!” Sometimes I have to encourage them to take more and they’re often very cautious. Some men will borrow a suit for an interview and bring it back and say “If somebody else can use it, I don’t need it again.” They’re always thinking about other people. I like reusing and recycling and it’s cool when people do it with other people in mind.

I like to help in the community, I grew up in a family that was very involved in the community, but maybe it’s the librarian in me who likes to organize things. I like how [volunteering at the clothing closet] involves my friends and neighbors, too. They came home the other day with my niece and she said, “There’s bags of clothes on your front porch!” and I said, “Yeah, that happens a lot.” If it’s not raining and I’m not home, people will just drop off things, because they know I’ll distribute them to someone that needs them. It’s kind of fun for me, I never know what I’m going to find.

"I like seeing clients come in [to the clothing closet] and find something they need. I like seeing that it matters."

P: Have there been any particularly interesting pieces that have come though the closet?

R: When I first started volunteering, there was a suit that looked like an Elvis impersonator would wear it. And I thought, “Well, I don’t think anybody would use this in an interview.” Well, one of the counselors came in and said, “Oh yeah, one of my clients is an Elvis impersonator!”

Most of the time things are usable by somebody, but we’re very picky. We don’t do anything that has stains or missing buttons, because we want it all to be useable and presentable and something that somebody would buy in the store. I even have a friend who sells makeup and she’ll give samples, so sometimes if somebody has good timing they’ll get lipstick or hand cream. And jewelry! I just ask my friends to go through their jewelry, because if somebody has a nice outfit and a nice pair of earrings or necklace, it makes them feel good.

P: Have there been any stand-out experiences?

R: The thing that impressed me the most was the award program for people who’ve gone through the EAC program. There was a guy who had been in prison his entire adult life and this was the first job he had ever interviewed for. He thanked his counselors and said, “I think I was pretty hard to work with when I first came, and I couldn’t figure out why these people were so nice. What’s in it for them?” He said they believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.

I really like the fact that CCC helps people make their lives better and they do it with so much class and respect for the people they work with.

P: And our traditional last question, what would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?

R: It’s such a big organization and there’s so many different things that volunteers do, it’s anything from dealing with clothes to dealing with people one-on-one. And the people that I do deal with are so appreciative. I like seeing clients come in [to the clothing closet] and find something they need. I like seeing that it matters.

• • •

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, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.

And if reading about Rebecca inspires you to make a donation of items that can be used by the people we serve, check out our in-kind donation wish list!



CCC’s Employment Access Center teams with WorkSource to offer even more services

Sep 04, 2017

Labor Day represents more than just mattress sales, camping and the unofficial start of fall. At Central City Concern (CCC) we celebrate the importance of employment on a person’s path to self-sufficiency. CCC’s Employment Access Center (EAC) offers CCC clients a one-stop employment assistance center with multiple resources including access to computers, the internet, tutorials, personal voicemail, a printer and copier, and telephone and fax services.

In late 2016, WorkSource Portland Metro opened an Express Center at the EAC (2 NW 2nd Ave.) to serve the public. The CCC WorkSource Express Center is open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and is staffed by WorkSource employment specialists. So far in 2017, the center has helped about 600 job seekers to engage with training programs, obtain job search assistance including referrals and get help with online applications, document formatting and general questions.

“We are very pleased to host a WorkSource Express Center in our Employment Access Center,” says Clay Cooper, CCC’s director of Social Enterprises and Employment Services. “We want to expand CCC’s employment services to include everyone in the downtown area seeking employment. WorkSource helps us do that, and adds value for our existing clients.”

“We want to expand CCC’s employment services to include everyone in the downtown area seeking employment. WorkSource helps us do that, and adds value for our existing clients.”

Finding a job can be overwhelming, especially for people entering or reentering the workforce after a rough patch in life. CCC’s EAC and WorkSource Express Center has many resources to help. In 2016, the EAC assisted nearly 1,000 job seekers. And every time a client gets a job, he or she rings the bell in the front lobby. It’s the sound of achievement and celebration!



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.



CCC Clean Start: Keeping Portland Clean & Giving Workers a Fresh Start

Jun 06, 2017

As the weather warms and the days grow longer, people take more notice of what’s going on in their neighborhoods. Central City Concern’s (CCC) Clean Start program helps keep neighborhoods clean by clearing away trash and removing graffiti. It’s also a mentored six-month work experience that gives people an opportunity to work, grow and gain crucial experience and confidence to pursue employment opportunities. CCC Clean Start runs three Portland crews and one in Gresham, each consisting of two people and a truck.

Local residents can access CCC Clean Start through the City of Portland’s One Point of Contact page online form or the PDX Reporter app. The City reviews the request and often calls upon CCC Clean Start crews to visit the area to clear trash or assist campers with cleaning. CCC Clean Start crews do not move people from sites or participate in campground “sweeps.” Their mission is to help keep neighborhoods free of litter and debris, as well as to provide residents of encampments with resources to maintain a safe and hygienic environment.

In April 2017, the three Portland CCC Clean Start crews removed 3,511 bags of trash and 1,350 needles.

Additionally, CCC Clean Start contracts with the Portland Downtown Business Improvement District to operate Downtown Clean & Safe, a service that cleans a 213-block area in central downtown and along the bus mall. CCC Clean Start also operates a temporary storage locker near the west end of the Steel Bridge where people who have no place to call home can put their belongings for a few hours while they work or seek employment.

Each two-person team has a trainee who once experienced homelessness. These trainees receive minimum wage, work 40 hours per week for 6-months and learn valuable soft skills. Toward the end of their six-month work experience, CCC Clean Start employees engage in practical, employment development workshops at CCC’s Employment Access Center where they receive one-on-one assistance in the job search process.

Some graduates move on to CCC employment in janitorial, maintenance, pest control and painting roles that maintain CCC’s 23 buildings. Others find permanent employment outside of the agency.

CCC Clean Start program keeps neighborhoods clean and gives workers a chance to gain experience and skills. It’s a win-win. For more information, visit the CCC Clean Start webpage.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

Just last month, Central City Concern launched the Flip the Script program with the goal of providing housing, cultural peer support, and employment specialists to support African Americans’ reentry into the community when leaving a criminal justice program. Without employment or housing, African Americans have a 36 percent chance of re-entering the system; addressing those pitfalls was crucial to their success.

But before the conversations around solutions could begin, CCC needed to identify the presenting issues, snags, and concerns facing this population.

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

Although much of his work was behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the critical role MJ played in laying the foundation for the Flip the Script program was imperative to the successful launch of Flip the Script. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with MJ and ask him about the groundwork it took to assist in getting this program rolled out.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: Michael Jones but I go by MJ.

And my volunteer proposition to you all was “Hey, if you’ve got some data, I would love to volunteer to analyze it.”

Because I thought you can do two things with that. I thought, one, we could help improve the program wherever that data came from so we can find some areas for improvement. And two, I thought this data could help you all tell your story about how you’re driving the impact in the community.

I do believe if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. But I also really know that data can close deals.

It sounds like our Employment Access Center was able to take you up on your offer, specifically for their Flip the Script Program.
Coming from a business background it’s all about ROI—the return on investment—and when I thought about it you guys have probably the largest ROI in the history of the world. Seriously. If you look at what does it cost to incarcerate a person versus what does it cost when a person is a productive member of society? That’s sort of the ROI that I see.

So with that I started to dig in, and with Freda [Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services), was given a project to go run with. Once I got in, like with every large organization, it turned out to be kind of complicated. We were sort at the classic starting point of not having all of the data. CCC had some data based on where individuals were housed with intake and exit interviews, but the data actually started back with the Department of Corrections.

And then as we started to dig further, it goes into the Department of Justice. I thought it was pretty amazing in the early stages of this project that Freda was able to wrangle those folks to come and get everyone in the same room. We had people driving up from Salem, from DOJ and DCJ, and we spent some time on a whiteboard and it did turn out to be very complicated. I sketched it all out and said well they have this piece and they have this piece but how do we marry those together.

It was pretty great and they sort of rallied around that this was a good idea. We did really need to keep people’s privacy and security in mind so we did talk about the cleaning of the data so it’s non-identifiable. But gosh, after a couple of months, everybody provided all of the bits and we were able to paste it together and basically what we had was 1,000 records and those represented 1,000 people.

That sounds like quite a bit of collaboration and work! Do you feel like the results were well-received?
I feel like what I presented to your team, people were really excited. They were like, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen the data presented in this way. We’ve never seen this much data. We’ve never heard the story told on top of it and we’ve always been looking at a small piece.” It really opened their eyes to some really healthy discussion and debate around the causation of recidivism and then a lot of thinking on how to improve it.

Recidivism is such a common thread for so many. What were some of the causes you discovered?
For instance one of the top reasons for recidivism is an individual, or a sex offender, not registering their location. But when you think about it, well, if you don’t have a home it’s kind of hard to register your location.

We uncovered some things that seem a little counterintuitive. Like how to some degree people would be less likely to recidivate if they stayed in a shelter, or if they even lived on the street, than if they went to live with friends. And that group that said they lived with friends had an incredibly high recidivism rate. But when you think about it, it makes total sense because that’s getting back to your bad habits. And so I think that helped really enlighten things.

And MJ, what made you want to get involved with Central City Concern in the first place?
I was motivated because of the homelessness situation that we’ve seen unfold in the past three years and I’m not one to just sit on the sidelines. I like to take action so I decided I wanted to volunteer locally and that seemed to be the biggest problem I could see locally.

And I was impressed [with Central City Concern]. There’s a huge number of organizations that are helping homeless populations in a variety of ways, but I really liked CCC because you guys focused on the health angle, the employment angle, and the housing angle and so I saw that as more sustainable. I guess I saw that as teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish.

And I love the social enterprise angle because I think that gives people real world work experience and it gives people the skills they need but it’s actually a real company and it’s about generating revenue. So I’m wild about that. We’re not just throwing cash at people but we’re teaching them life skills. It’s a bigger organization than I thought and I’d say it’s more innovative.

Is there anything you would think about doing differently if you volunteered again?
I loved it but in hindsight I was thinking my flaw in that volunteering opportunity was that these people were still numbers. And I think it would be good for me to see them as people and not numbers. And so I think being critical of my own volunteer experience, it was a very clinical and analytic sort of play where I think I could build more empathy if I got closer to the people rather than spreadsheets of numbers. Which is to say I have a couple of other things I want to work on, volunteering things, but that thinking has helped me inform my future strategy around my volunteering opportunities and wanting to be a little bit closer to it.