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.”

 



An historic $258 million bond measure for affordable housing in Portland

Jul 08, 2016

Central City Concern is committed to reducing homelessness in Portland. We believe everyone deserves to have a place called home. Working families should be able to live where they work. Seniors who built our neighborhoods should be able to thrive here through their golden years. But because of significant growth and stagnant incomes, Portland has a huge shortage of affordable housing: affordable housing helps everyone by creating a safe, equitable and healthy community.

That’s why Central City Concern supports the Welcome Home Coalition’s Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, which is dedicated to funding affordable housing development in Portland. On June 30, the Portland City Council voted to refer a historic affordable housing bond to the November ballot, giving voters a chance to make a critically needed investment in our community. The $258.4 million bond will:

- Add permanently affordable housing – an estimated 1,300 units, 600 of which will be reserved for very low-income households (0-30 percent median family income, which is up to about $22,000 for a family of four)

- Stabilize existing affordable housing in changing neighborhoods

- Ensure thousands of homes are protected from the market

- Protect communities of color, seniors, families, children and people with disabilities

- Prevent and reverse displacement.

Housing prices in the Portland metro area are rising at an alarming rate. National research shows when the average rent increases by $100 per month, homelessness increases by 15 percent. In 2015, average Portland rents increased by $128.

Please join us in supporting the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign. We can all join together to prevent homelessness and preserve our healthy Portland neighborhoods.

For more information on the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, visit the Welcome Home Coalition website.



Black History Month: What Do Imani Center Clients Say?

Feb 24, 2016

Over the course of Black History Month, we’ve heard from a number of exceptional people involved with the Imani Center, Central City Concern’s new Afrocentric mental health and addictions treatment program. In our final installment of our Black History Month blog series, we hear firsthand from Imani Center clients who have been impacted by the program’s culturally relevant services.

• • •

“It’s been great to be at Imani Center. Every other treatment program I’ve been in, I’ve had to wear a mask to get through. This is the first place I can come, be honest, and not get locked up.” –Eric C.

“I like when I can release how I’m feeling with my peers. I like the different groups. It helps me and is a positive influence on me. This has provided a positive atmosphere for me.” –Michael C.

“I was pointed in the right direction by an Imani Center Peer Specialist and it’s turning out to be all they said it would be.” –Jeff G.

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste and without Imani, I would be doing the same thing… going down the wrong path. This is a different place and I really appreciate y’all. When you mess up you don’t feel like you got caught; I can just focus on what I need to work on.” –Olty S.

“To work with people who have had the same struggle as me is very powerful.” –Anonymous

“At first I was reluctant, but I’ve been so impressed by the staff. Seeing our people come together in unity makes me feel so comfortable. I have seen genuine concern for my welfare, which speaks volumes to me.” –Anthony S.

“The Imani experience has been priceless due to me being able to access services without being enrolled, which gave me a foundation. It is clear to me they want me to succeed and I carry it on a daily basis.” –Robert L.



Black History Month: Hear from the Peers at Imani

Feb 18, 2016

In last week’s two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1, Part 2), CCC’s Director of African American Services, emphasized the importance of Imani’s three peer support specialists and the special relationship they foster with clients in need of guidance in their recovery from addiction and behavioral health challenges. In today’s Black History Month blog post, we hear directly from the three Imani Center peer support specialists—Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson—about how they view their work.

• • •

Walter: For me, being a Peer Service Specialist at Imani means that I have an opportunity to help my people rebuild their lives from the ground up, and give them hope and encouragement to achieve a better life.

I think that I have a plethora of things I bring to this position, but mainly my experience of once being a hopeless dope fiend. Thankfully, over time I realized I was lost and broken and I finally asked for help. Since I surrendered to getting help, I’ve been recreated into a dope-less hope fiend!

I joined Imani because I wanted a challenge to bring my skill set to a new program that I know can be an impact in the Portland community. I love seeing people change lives and find success. We meet clients where they’re at in life. We won’t give up on people and our team at the Imani Center takes great pride in providing the best care, services and support networks that we can to help clients realize they can feel safe, and they can feel supported and cared for.

Bonnie: Being a peer Support Specialist at Imani means so much to me. Being in recovery now for 25 years myself, I feel that I have so much life experience when it come to this kind of work. I totally understand the many challenges clients struggle with even when they get clean.

I have spent many years working in and around recovery; I started doing this work in 1992! I'm a certified alcohol and drug addiction counselor and I always knew I wanted to do this work.

But I really wanted to come from behind the desk as a counselor and be on the front line helping people, meeting people where they were at. I was a Family Involvement Team (FIT) Case Manager for six years and remember how rewarding the work was watching people and families heal. So I recently got certified as Peer Mentor, and here I am.

I think Imani is special because we are a culturally specific program and we understand our clients’ many struggles as it relates to being misunderstood for so long. A recent client told me, “I’ve never seen a program like this. This is what we needed: someone to listen and to support us." Since the word has been out about Imani, we’ve been swamped with clients trying to get in. Imani means faith, and they sure have faith in us.

Richie: I feel fortunate and blessed with this opportunity to be a peer service specialist at the Imani Center and to serve people doing something that I love. We work together with a common goal and with our clients in mind.

I’m in the second term of my drug and alcohol addiction counseling certification cohort and will be starting my practicum soon. I’ve got my Certified Recovery Mentor certification and firsthand experience in the field. All that while also being in recovery myself gives me a unique perspective to support our clients’ needs and help them learn new tools for their own recovery.

I wanted to be a part of Imani because it has a great foundation in Central City Concern and the great work CCC does in the community. Between the clinicians and the peer service specialists, and with [Director of African American Services] Linda Hudson leading us, Imani has extraordinary staff with great credentials. I feel confident Imani will be provide successful outpatient services.

 



Black History Month: Q&A With Linda Hudson (Part 2)

Feb 11, 2016

Today we share Part 2 of our Q&A session with Linda Hudson, Director of African American Services. The conversation touches on the paramount important of peer services, her personal connection to the word “imani,” and the feeling of history in the Golden West Hotel where the Imani Center is based. You can read Part 1 here. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

What services are offered at the Imani Center to African American clients?
The Imani Center offers outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services through both group and individual counseling. We do facilitated groups for cultural healing and criminality, or relapse prevention, groups just for women, and so on. We provide case management and help people develop life skills. We engage with patients at Hooper Detox and bring them into the fold of services.

We also have peer services, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of our program.

Why are peer services so important? What do peer services at the Imani Center look like?
Traditionally in treatment you come in, you go to group or you do an individual session with your counselor, and that’s pretty much it. After that, you go out in the world and you’re pretty much on your own to navigate and find resources. Trying to come out of a life of addiction and drugs and crime and all those things, and perhaps living with behavioral health issues on top of that, and just trying to figure out how to do this clean and sober life and all you’re expected to do along with it—that’s incredibly hard.

But with a peer attached to you when you walk out the door of the Imani Center, the client has someone saying things to them like “I’ll meet you at the meeting” or “I’ll come and get you to help you move” or “I’ll take you to the clothes closet.” That’s what our peers do.

The work of our three Peer Service Specialists is largely done outside the clinic setting. They wrap around the client in both mental health matters and addictions and support them in navigating the scary world of trying to stay in recovery and trying to change their lives. When a client walks daily with someone who they can call when they’re in a crisis or can meet them at a meeting or they can take you to the grocery store in the afternoon, it just makes all the difference. Our clients really benefit from it.

The three Imani peer specialists also have similar life experiences. They’ve earned the right to say, “I get it. I understand. I know what you’re saying.” Because of that, the clients almost listen to them more compared to a counselor may not have that firsthand experience of addictions or mental health difficulties.

Aside from the peer mentors, what other ways does the Imani Center emphasize relationships?
African Americans are relational people. We have family that isn’t blood. We’ve grown up taking other people into our homes. What makes family is acceptance and respect. Sitting around, breaking bread together…

If you sat here [in our lobby] for an hour, you’d see clients come in and the peers interact with them like family. It comes down to I see you, I hear you, I honor you. That’s how it is.

And we speak to them with respect. Looking them in the face and shaking their hand and hugging when we can. We strive to create an atmosphere like a family but with boundaries, of course. And because of that relationship, we can often say things to them that others can’t, and they hear it. Because of the cultural connection that we have, we have an understanding, and we can hear each other better.

What does it mean to you to be based in the historic Golden West Hotel ?
It wasn’t the plan originally! When we were looking for a place to put Imani, I knew we couldn’t be in a place where we couldn’t be ourselves. So off-handedly I suggested the Golden West and that idea gained support quickly!

The building itself makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. It means a lot for people to know that this is where African Americans stayed in the 20s and 30s. People who worked on the railroads stayed here, this was the only place they had. There was a thriving Black community here. There were businesses and barbershops here.

Right in this hotel, right down there, that was the gambling area, it was one of the largest gambling halls around. And they had music recitals here. I love the history.

It still needs some work, but thankfully renovations are coming soon. 

I heard that you really pushed for this program to be named the “Imani Center.” Why?
It’s personal. When we were trying to figure out a name for this program, I had several ideas. But I wanted the name to, numbers one, mean something. Two, I didn’t want an acronym. [laughs] But I wanted it to mean something to not just me, but also the clients—something they could relate to.

So you know that “imani” means “faith” in Swahili. Without faith, our people would not still be around… striving, thriving, trying to get better, and holding on. Faith was a thing that was ingrained in us as children growing up. We saw our parents and grandparents worshipping in the church and such, always talking about having faith. “Have faith in God. Have faith in this, have faith in that.”

It’s one of those words that feels like a foundation for me. Faith is the foundation of all things we hope for and wish for. So when we had about two or three options, the staff—they helped me choose— they all liked the word “Imani” because it was about faith.

I want the clients to have something to remind them to have faith in themselves first. We speak a lot about higher powers in here, in a power greater than yourself. Having faith that things are going to turn out right. So if they have faith in themselves, and faith in us as clinicians and as people who care about them, that means there’s faith in Central City Concern, too. So that’s why Imani came about.

And I wanted it to be Imani Center instead of Program because I want our people to have access to the same things other people do within all of CCC. The center can be a hub for a lot more of those services for African Americans and people of color in the future. If it’s the center, that means we’re a hub, and we want to be on the hook for doing a lot more.



Black History Month: Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1)

Feb 09, 2016

We continue our Black History Month series introducing the Central City Concern Imani Center with a two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services. Last week’s post introduced the roots of the Imani Center. In part one of our interview, Linda shares more about the unique experiences many African Americans encounter in mainstream treatment programs, how the Imani Center breaks through them to enhance their clients’ chances of recovery success, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

Part of the purpose of the Imani Center was to provide services that address barriers “uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream [treatment] programs.” Can you talk a little bit more about those barriers are?
One of the main things we see is the effect of treatment curriculum taught in many traditional programs, which has been created and maintained from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. So when an African American patient comes in with different experiences and different perspectives, and they try to fit the client into that curriculum, there’s often some tension there. If it doesn’t relate to the individual, or if they have a difficult time understanding it, they get labeled as “resistant” or “not a good fit.”

Or if an African American person enters treatment with a background of trauma—and so many African Americans carry the trauma of discrimination and racism—it’s easy to get triggered. A lot of those curricula and even treatment staff don’t have that cultural lens to understand that the client has had some horrible history that they may continue to carry every single day. So a person with consistent trauma can get triggered very easily.

An African American client might enter a treatment program, perhaps loud and boisterous with a lot of PTSD and trauma, and they’ll probably make people in the group uncomfortable. They’ll get labeled as aggressive, so they don’t do well in treatment. Black people in treatment get kicked out of programs more often and they don’t graduate as often. Many African Americans encounter this in traditional, predominantly white, treatment programs.

How does the Imani Center avoid those barriers?
A lot of our clients have never been able to sit in a treatment program and really be themselves: say the things that they would love to say the way they want to express it. At the Imani Center, clients don’t have to feel like they need to use the perfect vernacular, to choose their words. Here, they can say things the way they want to, and we can understand it and work with them. And of course, we can work on refining some things to get their needs met if they want that.

At the Imani Center, clients are allowed to be who they are in a safe place. They get to talk about racism and discrimination, and they’re talking with staff who understand what they’re talking about. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how it goes and we know how it feels. And 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 it and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.

And I want to be clear that traditional programs are in no way bad. They are absolutely necessary. But some of our people just haven’t been set up for success in those environments, and we’re hoping to change some of that and help them heal in ways that they can start getting their needs met in an appropriate manner and understand how to navigate through the system.

Who are the faces behind the Imani Center?
I’m the director of African American services. Joanna Smith is our lead mental health counselor. JoAnna and I are the only Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) at this time. We have recently hired another QMHP who will be on board soon. Yvette Davis is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor, and Jammie Trimble is a Mental Health Counselor. Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson are our three peer support specialists. Karen Fahie, the Imani Center Office Manager, keeps everything organized and running smoothly.

We heard from Sonja Ervin in last week’s post that during the planning process, the African American community voiced that they greatly valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Aside from the lived experiences, there is a high level of education under the Imani Center roof. What message does that send? How does that aid in what the Imani Center hopes to be?
Yeah, people sure do want those credentials behind your name! [laughs]

Joanna, Yvette, and I all have Master of Social Work degrees. Joanna and I are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP), which means we can do mental health assessments and diagnose. Yvette is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor which means she is credentialed to perform alcohol and drug assessments. I’m dually credentialed, which means I can do both mental health and addiction assessments. Jammie and Yvette both are Qualified Mental Health Associates, which means they can work with mental health clients, but not diagnose. Jammie will be taking the Oregon Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) test shortly.

The three peers support specialists have gone through the extensive Certified Recovery Mentor training. Walter and Bonnie are former counselors. Walter is also a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and Bonnie, a CADC l. Richie is currently enrolled in an A&D counseling program. And they all have firsthand experience to varying extents with addictions and mental health struggles.

My goal is to get everyone dually credentialed. Nowadays you don’t find many people struggling with just one disorder. They’re so often co-occurring: mental health and addictions. Most mental health clients use drugs to self-medicate; most people who use drugs develop mental health disorders. We have to be able to work with both at the same time. You can’t work with one and then the other. It’s called integrated treatment. And along with our CCC primary care clinic, most of our clients are getting the best of the best care.

As treatment program staff, we need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving. I encourage our staff to take care of themselves. Stay home if you’re sick. Take time off when you need it. Working with our clients is challenging. The disease of addiction and mental health disorders are so complex and we need to be at our best.

That’s why I’m so grateful that we were able to create the Imani Center. It’s not a traditional program. We do individualized treatment. We do it according to what the client needs. What does he need? Oh, he needs to be in the MH group and the criminality group. What does she need? She needs to be in the women’s group and the relapse prevention group. All based on their needs and history.

Aside from not having had success in traditional treatment programs, is there a “typical” profile of a person coming to Imani? What makes someone a good fit for Imani?
I don’t know how to answer that… there are so many types of people who come here!

The big thing is if they are willing and able to show up and do the work. We don’t sugarcoat anything here. We’re going to do work here. This is an alcohol and drug addiction and mental health clinic. Someone who is tired of doing things the way they’ve normally done because it’s not working for them. Let us show you a different way of getting your needs met. You also need to be able to get along with others. We have a complex group of people. We empower and encourage people to monitor themselves.

Many years ago when I started in this field, the word “manipulation” would be thrown around so much about clients. “They’re manipulative. They’re manipulating.” But if I needed to get my needs met, I need to get my needs met! Addiction is a very selfish disease and in many ways, mental health issues are not far from that. And if you constantly label people manipulative, you can’t empower them to be better.

So we do not use that word as it pertains to clients here. Instead, I encourage my staff to think of people trying to get their needs met the best way they know how until they learn how to do it differently! That means they have to unlearn all the things that they have learned on the streets and through criminality, and then learn a different way. And that takes a long time to do.

But if you’re willing and able and you and show up and get along with others, then we can work with you.

Ÿ• • •

Part two of the Q&A with Linda Hudson will be posted on Thursday.



Black History Month: The Roots of Imani

Feb 01, 2016


February is Black History Month, and Central City Concern is excited to celebrate this important and valuable observance. Last year on the blog, we featured several reflections on the equity and culturally specific work taking place at CCC. This year, we are thrilled to honor Black History Month by introducing you to the Imani Center, a new CCC program that offers African American-centered mental health and addictions services. Each week throughout the month we’ll share a different facet of the Imani Center’s story. Our first post comes from Sonja Ervin, our Director of Cultural Equity, who shares why and how the Imani Center came to be.

Ÿ• • •

We wanted to do more. We wanted to do better.

Central City Concern demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that everyone we serve through our addiction treatment, healthcare, housing, and employment services feels a part of the CCC community. We also recognize that we can and should strive to do better. That desire to do and be better resides at all levels of the CCC community; just as importantly, CCC recognizes that authentic change and improvement must be driven by those who “own the experience.”

People of color face stunning disparities in health and socioeconomic wellness in Multnomah County as reported upon last year in the Report Card on Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Central City Concern wants to play a role in addressing such disparities.

With the desire to do better, and the wisdom to understand that those who own the experience must drive the process, in fall 2014, CCC’s Executive Director asked a group of our African American staff and community members (many who have lived experience in poverty, homelessness, addictions and treatment) to come together to talk about how CCC can do more and do better for those we serve from the African American community.

We got together and talked about experiences, opportunities and challenges. We looked at what was offered—at CCC and in the community—and where the gaps were. What do we as the African American community need? How should it be provided?

What did we hear? Essentially, our community was seeking culturally specific leadership, treatment, and support services that address the barriers that are uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream programs.

One meeting led into months of work to develop recommendations, a plan and a proposal to combine current programs with expanded resources to create a comprehensive program for African Americans by African Americans.

Between the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the African American community, the agency’s commitment to listening to and serving the community better, and the support of partners like Multnomah County, an idea—now fully realized as Central City Concern’s Imani Center—took root and began to grow.

In August 2015, Linda Hudson, a longtime CCC employee with deep experience in behavioral health service, as well as culturally specific programs serving the African-American community such as The Real Program, African American Health Coalition and the OHSU Avel Gordly Center for Healing, was selected as the Director of African American Services and hiring of staff began.

The Imani Center has been serving clients experiencing disproportionate barriers to reaching a higher potential since November 16, 2015. The Imani Center has already seen the culturally specific approach to addiction and behavioral health treatment make a difference in those being served.

The program name “Imani” means “faith” in Swahili. This name was chosen to provide participants and CCC with a foundation of faith—faith in our services and our agency, and for the participants’ faith in themselves. We look forward to continuing the work of empowering and supporting the needs of the African American community.

 



Black History Month Series: Cultural Healing through Recovery

Feb 12, 2015

Our Black History Month blog series continues with a deeply personal piece from Yvette Davis, Program Manager for one of Central City Concern's culturally specific services. She reflects on what brought her to establish the Cultural Healing through Recovery program and be of service to the African American community.

• • •

People ask, “Why culturally specific services?”

And I answer, “Why not?!”

There are many services within the community that all types of people can access in order to heal from addiction, trauma, unhealthy lifestyles, relationships, and more. My belief is that services, of any type, cannot use a “one size fits all” approach. There are many evidence-based practices that work for various types of people. My question is: what about practice-based evidence?

I am an African American woman in recovery and celebrated 16 years clean and serene January 20, 2015. I did not have the opportunity to find healing when I accessed treatment in January 1999. I had just lost my mother due to a fatal car accident. This was my bottom and then – and only then – was I willing to surrender.

I accessed services in order to learn how not to use alcohol and drugs, but I now realize that back then there was much more healing that needed to take place besides addressing my alcohol and drug issues. I was a lost little girl and needed to grieve, heal, address past trauma, and learn how to form loving relationships with my kids, family, and within my culture.

I appeared intimidating, angry, and had many other clients walking on egg shells (per their report). The stereotypes and stigmas that were put on me during treatment did not allow me the freedom to heal and find relief in treatment on an equal basis as others. I needed a place where I could process my cultural pain and someone who could identify that it was pain and not anger. I was kicked out of treatment and was told that I needed to take anger management classes. Nevertheless, I stayed clean.  

I believe my higher power has chosen me to be of service and provide the African American community with an environment where healing, laughter, joy, and freedom can take place without the stereotypes and stigmas that stem from misinterpreted behaviors during one’s healing process. This is what the Cultural Healing through Recovery Program provides.

This work is important to me, because I was not provided the same safety and opportunities during my episode of treatment. It’s important for individuals of my culture to know they do not have to deny, rationalize, minimize, or justify who they are or who they want to become in order to attain success.

Acknowledging cultural differences and having the ability to serve clients through a cultural lens gives me the ability not to minimize their pain or their healing process. African Americans have the right to have their own unique expression; my job is to have the ability to hear them and not fear them. It’s one of the ways I can best support their cultural needs.

Even as I serve and support, I still receive so much.

"Since accessing the CHtR program I’ve been able to dig deeper into my alcohol and drug issues by internalizing what I’ve learned here in treatment. I am now able to communicate my feelings, thoughts, and fears. I could not do this before I joined this program. Today I am able to relate to other black women fighting for their recovery.”

“You keep it real, you told no lies, I trusted your words, and you said it was ok to cry. You’ve been my strength, the rock on which I stand. I’ve gained so much wisdom, guided by your gentle hand. The kindness you have shown in every word and deed has been a blessing in my life in so many times of need”.

These words from clients reflect the value and the gift I’ve received since providing culturally specific services to the African American community. From my perspective, this is why I do the work I do! It’s a gift beyond what words can express when clients learn to trust, love, heal, feel, and grow. Treatment is not “one size fits all!"

And I want to acknowledge Central City Concern for recognizing that diversity is more than just having diverse employees because we have diverse clientele. Diversity is practiced through also being willing to provide a culturally specific service with a cultural lens, which allows us as an agency to meet the needs of the African American community and for that, I’m grateful!

Yvette Davis, MSW, CADC I, is the Program Manager for CCC’s Cultural Healing through Recovery Program.



Black History Month Series: Over-Representation Program

Feb 10, 2015

Today’s Black History Month blog series post highlights the Over-Representation Program, one of several culturally specific services available through Central City Concern, as well as why staff member, Jammie Trimble, is dedicated to working with this specific population. Catch up on the previous posts in this series here.

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At Central City Concern, we offer several culturally specific programs that work solely with the African American community. One of these programs is the Over-Representation Program (ORP), located within the Community Engagement Program (CEP). We work specifically with African American individuals who have been dually diagnosed with mental health concerns and alcohol and drug addiction, have a history of being homeless, and have had repeated involvement with the criminal justice system.

ORP intervenes when treatment and mental health support services would better serve to address the many needs of an individual than cycling in and out of incarceration. The program utilizes a relationship model to provide support and case management for participants.

Over-Representation Program counselors identify as African American. We seek to improve outcomes by allowing our clients to be served by members of their own community. “Community” in this sense refers to individuals like myself who look like ORP clients, and also extends to those who have a personal understanding of the African American experience. ORP clients end up with a deeper connection to counselors of color, opening up the ability trust, which allows them to be more open about things they may not be inclined to discuss with strangers.

For example, ORP staff and clients attended a showing of the movie, Selma. As a group, we had recently gone over the November voting ballot in a class and we were able to see watch in the movie how history unfolded to allow African Americans – us – the right to use the ballot today. Together, we felt empowered by the movie.

Working with my clients at ORP makes me feel like I am fulfilling my purpose. It is important because it is necessary. From my perspective, much of the value in this work is contributing another needed dimension to client-centered services to meet our clients where they are. I am proud to work in culturally specific services.

Jammie Trimble is a Case Manager in CCC’s Over-Representation Program.



Black History Month Series: Why I Do Equity work

Feb 04, 2015

We continue our Black History Month blog series with a reflection from Sonja Ervin on what drives her dedication to equity work. If you missed our first post of the series, be sure to check out CCC’s Black History Month Series: An Introduction.

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I never intended to actively do diversity, inclusion, and equity work. I am a clinician by degree, and a community outreach social worker by training and experience. I have always worked with folks who are marginalized in our society and are faced with enormous barriers. My shift to focus on equity was quite unintentional. It happened over time, but a turning point came when I had the privilege to help create the Over-Representation Program, Central City Concern’s first culturally specific service for the African American community. [Note: we will be highlighting the Over-Representation Program next week.]

At the same time, I was a single mother with a young African American son. As he moved through elementary school, I began to see and experience the lack of opportunities he was being afforded, the systemic issues that were keeping him from being challenged and reaching his full potential, and the incredibly exhausting fight required to ensure that he had access to those opportunities. Equity work became not something that I wanted to do, but something that I had no choice but to do.  

Imagine the richness of our world if everyone had access to all of the opportunities to reach their highest potential. The physical, emotional, financial, and social benefits that would arise. The connections and communities that would be built and thrive. This is a world that I would like to live in and I feel a responsibility to do what I can to shift us a little bit closer each day.

I am honored to get to do this work at Central City Concern. CCC is a community of amazing people: those we serve, as well as those serving. There is a richness of history and experience that is present in the incredibly diverse staff and clients who are walking through the doors every day.  

In response to the diversity of our staff and those we serve, not only has CCC recognized the need for culturally specific services, we took the step to expand them. In 2013, we began the agency’s culturally specific alcohol and drug services, Cultural Healing through Recovery. This program provides culturally specific peer treatment and support to African American men and women seeking addictions treatment.  [Note: we will also have a forthcoming post highlighting Cultural Healing through Recovery!]

As an agency, Central City Concern has demonstrated commitment to providing the best possible care to the many distinct communities we serve. The organization is actively engaging in individual and organizational reflection through trainings; equity and cultural competence assessments; focus groups; and a robust and enthusiastic diversity committee to improve how we embrace and respond to the diverse world in which we work.

The work is not always easy; in fact it is often very difficult. But it is necessary and important and the dedication and commitment of everyone at CCC helps to keep me motivated to push us forward.

I’ve been unsure at times if I was up to this challenge of equity work. Could I do it? Did I have the experience and knowledge?

During those times of uncertainty, my wife has said to me, “You have been preparing your whole life for this moment.” This is how I move forward in this work. My experiences, who I am, and what I have done have brought me to this moment to do the work in front of me. So in the times I'm faced with doubt, I just remember that I’ve been preparing my entire life for right here, right now.

Sonja Ervin is the Director of Cultural Equity at Central City Concern.