Healing Ourselves in Order to Heal Others

Apr 18, 2018

For today’s blog post, we’re throwing it all the way back to last year’s Volunteer Appreciation Week, where we featured our partnership with Living Yoga and their volunteers.

One of our volunteer instructors, Diane, shared last year that, “this was [her] first real experience of volunteering,” but that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of [the] whole week.” Then-Director of Detoxification Services Steve Mattsson also shared that Living Yoga had not only been a fulfilling opportunity for our clients, but also that it had reduced the number of clients leaving care against professional advice.

There’s no doubt that engaging in a yoga practice can be transformative, even if the transformation is just into a hot, sweaty mess. For Chelsey, a former client of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program, having access to yoga was not only an important part of her recovery journey, but also in taking the strength she gained in that process and offering it to others in her own volunteership. Read on to see how volunteers, volunteering, and, of course, yoga have been a part of her transformation.

• • •

I was getting ready to leave rehab with nowhere to go. I couldn’t go back to where I had been and didn’t have options or resources for a home of any kind in front of me. All I had was a few months clean time and some newly found hope.

Early in her recovery, Chelsey found the gift of yoga through CCC volunteers. Now she's volunteering to pass it on to others new to their recovery.Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program came into my life and set up housing for me to move from inpatient treatment into sober transitional living with a mentor to guide me through the basics of recovery, alongside intensive outpatient treatment with CCC. My dark path got lighter.

I took my first yoga class at the Old Town Clinic in the free wellness classes offered throughout the week. I don’t remember much except for looking to the teacher again and again to see if I was doing it right. Later, in the basement of the Estate Building, I took a yoga class with a volunteer teacher named Megan. Once she moved on, yoga was no longer an available option for the Mentor Program participants, so I sought out other places to practice.

While the practice itself was difficult I undeniably felt better afterwards—less anxious, less depressed, more motivated, and over time more aware of my thinking and cravings. I was able to step away from the constant mental chatter and start to have a new relationship with myself, my body, and even question my identity as I started to become a “healthy” person. Yoga has helped me work through chronic pain, build confidence through seeing myself grow and doing something difficult, and feel more in control and comfortable being present in my body. I started changing my self-destructive behavior and making amends to myself in this simple way.

It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program.... Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering.

Now, every Tuesday at 4:30, I volunteer as a yoga instructor to share with others what was freely given to me. It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program. They helped me so much when I needed it; it feels good to be able to offer resources to those working to change their lives. Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering. Some people come in still detoxing, newly out of Hooper. Some people have been coming back week after week and it is amazing to see the growth happening so quickly. Coming in from the chaotic busy streets to holding space for reflection and inner awareness feels like the change that could heal ourselves and downtown.

Being aware and taking advantage of resources was the difference between remaining addicted and creating a change in my life. When I moved into housing I asked who to thank and how to I could repay them. I was told that this “isn’t a hand out but a hand up.” Sometimes we just need help and to be shown the way and given an opportunity until we are fully able to heal, help ourselves, and in time, help others.

Through yoga I have learned I am capable of being stronger mentally and physically. I am able to do so much more than I have ever given myself credit for in the past. I am so grateful I get to share such an empowering and mindful practice. Through recovery we can heal ourselves and in turn heal those around us. Much like recovery, in yoga and through volunteering I am able to accept the benefits in order to offer them away.



Bringing out the BEST for CCC Clients

Mar 29, 2018

A detailed application. Multiple questionnaires. Medical exams and psychiatric assessments. Probing, personal questions about your past. Unforgiving deadlines.

Just reading those words might be enough to make you feel overwhelmed. Welcome to the process for pursuing Social Security benefits.

The application process is notorious for being as complicated as it is comprehensive: it ensures that only those who are truly unable to earn wages receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. Unfortunately, the high degree of difficulty also means that those who are most in need of the stabilizing lifeline of Social Security income are often unable to successfully apply by their own efforts.

BEST program staffers build the strongest Social Security benefits case possible for each client by reviewing medical records, performing interviews, and coordinating assessments.Many of the people Central City Concern (CCC) serves fit in this category. So since March 2008, CCC’s Benefits and Entitlements Specialist Team (BEST) program has helped particularly vulnerable individuals—most experiencing homelessness or deep poverty and living with severe disabilities that keep them from gaining their own income through employment—navigate the maze.

“The stress of telling their story and reliving traumas is often overwhelming and triggering,” says Kas Causeya, BEST’s program manager. “Add in complicated terminology and unfamiliarity with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Service (DDS) criteria for awardees, and the applicant’s chance for errors rockets up if they try on their own.”

BEST’s benefits specialists walk side-by-side with each client and use their expertise to maximize the chances of a successful application. They gather information through interviews with the client and those who may know more about their situation. They coordinate psychological and medical exams, which BEST pays for. And while the client’s cognitive impairment can add a level of difficulty, BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

...BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

The goal is, of course, to gain approval for Social Security benefits. To awardees, their income is much more than a check. It represents pride in being able to meet basic needs and pay rent. It inspires feelings of dignity by giving them a means to make purchases that allow a measure of self-sufficiency. The financial stability gives them freedom to engage meaningfully with their communities.

Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,600 people have found hope with the help of BEST.

Kellie F. counts herself among the fortunate. She has an exceedingly difficult time remembering things, a lifelong condition that has caused her great difficulties. She experienced multiple traumas growing up, and fresher ones as she moved through adulthood. She became heavily dependent on alcohol to cope.

“My memory thing is really flustering. There are things I wish I wish I could remember that I can’t. And there are some things from my past I don’t want to remember, but I do.”

Her substance use disorder brought her to CCC’s Hooper Detox, and from there she engaged with CCC’s 8x8 Recovery Housing program, where she started developing the tools and skills for successful long-term recovery. Her case manager recognized Kellie’s difficulty with memory and referred her to the BEST program, if only for an initial assessment to see if her difficulties would qualify her for Social Security. That’s where she met Marshal, a BEST specialist.

“I found Kellie to be very eager and motivated to engage in the BEST process. As I reviewed her case I read the story of someone who faced significant barriers to work but who, despite much suffering and hardship, continued to persevere,” recollects Marshal.

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Together, Marshal and Kellie dived into the process. They explored Kellie’s understanding of her impairments and how they impacted her daily life. Marshal took her to a psychologist for a cognitive evaluation, helped her complete a phone interview with the Social Security office, met with her to review her work history, and again to go over little details to further strengthen her claim. Marshal and his BEST colleagues reviewed all her medical records, wrote a detailed report summarizing their argument for Kellie’s behalf, and kept in regular contact with SSA and DDS. Through it all, he made sure to keep the line of communication with Kellie as open and inviting as possible, earning and nurturing a sense of mutual trust.

Stacks of paperwork that grow to a foot high over the course of building a client's case are a common sight in the BEST office.“I felt nervous at first about [applying]. And there were times when were times I felt overwhelmed by the questions,” Kellie says. “But Marshal was really encouraging and supportive.”

Kellie and Marshal had good reason to feel optimistic about her chances once they sent in her application. Due to their fluency in the system, BEST wins 67 percent of their initial applications, compared to 32 percent of applicants from the general population. To put BEST’s expertise even more starkly, only 15 percent of applicants nationwide who are homeless are awarded benefits. The program’s close relationship and coordination with SSA and DDS mitigate many of the stumbling blocks that lead to unsuccessful applications.

On average, applicants receive an initial decision about 110 days after they submit their application; for BEST clients, they hear back, on average, within 74 days. Kellie received her results. But as is the case in 33 percent of BEST’s initial applications, Kellie received a heartbreaking denial. “I felt like I didn’t know where I was going to go from there,” she says.

Marshal acted quickly to reconfigure and strengthen Kellie’s case and filed for reconsideration. “We don’t like to see denials as ‘no,’” says Marshal. “We take it as a ‘just not yet’ and go from there.”

BEST’s perseverance pays off. An additional 6 percent of BEST’s clients win awards after a reconsideration or appeal, upping their overall success rate to 72 percent. Kellie eventually received a second letter. She had qualified for SSDI. Marshal’s extra efforts made all the difference.

“They saw that I really do have a disability that keeps me from working,” she says. “I was very happy about that. Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

“Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Behind each of the awards—and the reams of paperwork and hours of information gathering that went into them—is a person who has found stability they wouldn’t have had otherwise. A person who doesn’t feel as anxious about how they’ll afford necessities. A person who feels prepared to become a contributing part of the community. A person like Kellie.

“When I found out I qualified for SSDI, I felt like I could be part of society again. I feel better about myself now,” she says. “I actually just put in an application to do some volunteering.”

It often takes many hands to guide people toward self-sufficiency, however that ends up looking like for each person. Since 2008, more than 150 community partners— including BEST’s original partners:, the City of Portland, Providence Health & Services, and the Kaiser Community Fund—have played some role in helping more than 1,600 people achieve independence.

Receiving benefits doesn’t make Kellie’s memory impairments any better, which severely affect how she navigates each day. But she has a perspective that keeps her looking and moving forward.

“I can remember the things I need to remember that keep me on the good path now. Life is a heck of a lot better than it was.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2018 Edition

Feb 27, 2018

This month, we’re turning the spotlight on a part of Central City Concern that hosts almost a quarter of all the volunteers at CCC! With so many great folks to share, we couldn’t pick just one, so this month’s spotlight features two of our dedicated volunteers from the Letty Owings Center (LOC). 

Since LOC’s first days, volunteers have played a large role in bringing activities and extra comforts to the mothers and children who live there. Nerissa Heller, who oversees LOC, had this to say about the value of having volunteers in the program: “Volunteers have supported LOC since its inception in 1989. It truly makes the women in our care feel valued and special to have volunteers take time out of their day to give them positive, caring attention.” 

Our two volunteers this month get to engage with mothers and children in two very different, but equally appreciated, ways. One thing that both of them share is the feeling that volunteership gives them as much if not more than they feel they give. Read on to hear about their work at LOC!

• • •

Megan Hornby

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Two years. We were supporting CCC financially while we were still working, but then when I was full-time retired I wanted to give some time.

What is it that you do as a volunteer? I come in and I help the staff at the nursery by holding babies, playing with the babies, and basically giving them a little help at the end of the week. When they are full with about seven or eight babies, it’s a lot to keep everybody peaceful and happy.

Did you have experience working with kids before volunteering? Yeah, I have a lot of grandchildren, none of whom live in the area, so that’s another reason I like playing with the babies. I also have a background in nursing and working with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children.

What’s kept you coming back to volunteer? Volunteering, I decided, is something that I should really look forward to, otherwise I wasn’t going to be very good at it. So this is just one of my favorite days of the week because I enjoy being with the babies a lot and I enjoy the staff here. The staff are very professional and warm and appreciative. So it’s kind of a win-win. I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer.

Have there been any stand-out moments? I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses of the mothers. They’re pretty impressive. That they’re trying to deal with something that’s as difficult as addictions and at the same time balancing being a young parent. It’s pretty impressive to watch them go through the program and get their lives back on track. They do a lot of hard work to get there.

"I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer."
-Megan H., CCC Volunteer

With your experience in mental health, do you see anything that’s different at CCC than other, similar services? I think the best thing about CCC that’s really unique is that it’s not fragmented so when somebody graduates from the Letty Owings Center, they still have the supports they need to go on to the next phase. They have housing, outpatient treatment, and they don’t get dumped in the system without those critical supports. That’s very unusual in the social services system and I think it’s one of the best things about CCC.

There’s almost a huge loop in that people that are super successful sometimes come back and work [with CCC], which also makes the whole culture of the program very hopeful. [Recovery] is a lifetime of work and here they see some of the staff people who are still working on it, but they’re working and they’re employed and they have homes and a life with real relationships. It’s a very hopeful place.

• • •

June Hensala

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Let’s say two-and-a-half years, to be safe.

What is your volunteer position? I get to go out for coffee! Isn’t that the best job ever? Another friend from church and I come over and pick up a couple gals, and once in a while they have children with them, and we go out and have coffee and visit. I’m not giving any advice, I’m just having coffee with these gals and having a nice time.

Was this something that you and this person started? No, this has been going on for a long time. There was this gal named Carol, who had been with LOC practically since it began, and she volunteered everywhere, but one of the things she did was take a couple mothers out for coffee with another friend. Carol died about three years ago and I had read this book about remembering people, and part of that was remembering them by action. So I’m remembering Carol when I take them out to coffee.

"I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, 'We like to have you for coffee.'"
-June H., CCC Volunteer

Had you worked with kids or families prior to your volunteership? Well, indirectly. I was a nurse and so I was trained in caring for others and noticing others. When I raised my kids, I did Cub Scouts and the like, but I’m 80 years old now, so that’s one of the things I like about going to LOC is seeing gals that are in their 20s and getting to talk to somebody that is a different age. Our society separates people so much, so I really like that contact with the younger generation.

What do you feel the benefit is for the clients who are going out to coffee? Well, often we get the gals that are just new to LOC, so they don’t have a routine yet and they’re also dealing with the early stages of recovery. So we give some encouragement, but I think the gain is really more on my part. I gain a lot out of it, really. I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, “We like to have you for coffee.” It was such a caring, wonderful thing.

Have there been any stand out moments? I’m always very impressed with how caring the girls are to each other. It’s not just the staff, the girls seem to help each other. They share, they encourage one another, and they say, “Oh, we’re buddies.” So, I think that’s helpful if you know somebody’s going through the same thing you are.

Their feeling of hope I’ve been impressed with, as well. [They’ll say], “This is a wonderful place, this is a good place. The staff is good here,” not, “Oh, this is really hard.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer? Well, I get rewarded for it. I’ve always felt a very strong trust in God all my life and I feel like God puts me places where I get the most out of it. And every day I fill up with God’s love, and I have to do that, so I can then go out and love others. And I’ve liked all the girls. At first, I thought, “Oh maybe there will be somebody there that’s a bit too wild,” but they’re not. They’ve just been wonderful girls that have experienced addiction.

I’m also in the quilting group at my church and we make quilts for all the Letty Owing Center clients. When they graduate [the program] they each get a quilt. So that keeps me involved, and it keeps the church involved as well.

And it really broadens your life scope. I’m retired and you just get isolated by that. Volunteering takes you out of your world and pushes you somewhere else. It’s nice to see a lot of good, and it’s what I’ve seen. It’s been a really positive experience.



A look back at 2017 to get us dreaming bigger in 2018

Dec 29, 2017

In 2017, Central City Concern (CCC) made significant headway toward increasing the number of affordable homes in Portland, bridged service gaps with new programs, further cemented our reputation as leaders in the national conversation about how to end homelessness, and much more. But most importantly, thanks to you, CCC helped thousands of our neighbors find housing, wellness, and opportunity through our compassionate and comprehensive model of care.

Below are some highlights from the year at CCC. As you read through this snapshot of what we accomplished, we hope you will feel good about all the things you made possible.

July: Hill Park Apartments became home to 39 households in Southwest Portland.

August: Charlotte B. Rutherford Place, a 51-unit apartment building for families, broke ground.

September: Stark Street Apartments, which will provide 153 homes, broke ground.

November: The Blackburn Building—combining a clinic, pharmacy, transitional and permanent housing—broke ground.

February: Multnomah County, the City of Portland, and CCC launched the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program to help low-level drug offenders work toward recovery, find stability and avoid reoffending.

February: CCC, Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Meyer Memorial Trust together launched Flip the Script, a culturally specific reentry program that aims to reduce recidivism.

March: CCC joined forces with Health Share of Oregon and CODA, Inc. to form Wheelhouse, a program to expand Medication Supported Recovery services throughout the Tri-county area.

May: CCC Clean Start trains formerly homeless workers to help keep neighborhoods clean by removing trash and graffiti. The program works with the City of Portland’s One Point of Contact.

May: Ed Blackburn, Portland Business Alliance Community Partner of the Year

July: Town Center Courtyards family housing community, Gold Nugget Merit Award

October: Ed Blackburn and Central City Concern, National Alliance to End Homelessness Pioneers in Innovation and Excellence Award

November: Housing is Health Collaboration, Portland Business Journal Innovations in Corporate Philanthropy Award

January: After a fire displaced 98 residents of CCC's Hotel Alder building, community members rallied to send a flood of donations to meet the needs of our tenants.

August: Close to 300 runners and walkers attended Portland's first Heroes in Recovery 6K. Proceeds of the race benefited CCC and Hooper Detox.

March: The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness highlighted CCC Recovery housing.

April: CCC hosted Kimberly Johnson, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, for a visit that included a Recovery Housing “fish bowl” dialogue.

June: CCC staff members and a health care consumer hosted six informative and well-received presentations at the National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

January: Ed Blackburn, CCC's executive director since 2008, announced that he would retire later in 2017. A national search began in the spring for his successor.

August: Rachel Solotaroff, M.D., was announced as the new President & CEO for CCC. She had been with CCC since 2006, first as CCC’s Medical Director, then as Chief Medical Officer since 2014

September: Freda Ceaser was named CCC's director of Equity and Inclusion. She was previously the Director of Employment Services at CCC's Employment Access Center.

April: CCC highlighted our robust volunteer program and partnerships during National Volunteer Week.

August: CCC celebrated National Health Center Week by sharing the many ways we extend our health care work past clinic walls and directly to where people live.

The Imani Center program increased the number of people they serve with culturally responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment by 50 percent. They also held the first two graduations in the program's history.

CCC's social enterprises—Central City Coffee, the Central City Bed, On-call Staffing and CCC Clean Start—employed 80 formerly homeless clients over the year.

CCC's Recycling and Reuse Operations Center, a program that gives abandoned property a second life, processed more than 44,000 pounds of items (91% of which was kept out of the landfill) and provided nearly 700 clients with much-needed household items and clothing.



The 2017 Sandy Anderson Award Winner: Way More than "just an enforcer"

Dec 20, 2017

During the Old Town Clinic (OTC) all-staff meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6, Billie Kay Stafford, OTC's operations manager, was recognized with the Health Services Advisory Council’s (HSAC) 2017 Sandy Anderson Award.

Billie Kay, or BK as she's affectionately known across Central City Concern, was an exemplary choice to be this year's awardee. For the last three years, the Sandy Anderson Award has been given by HSAC to a staff person who:

- Is always person-centered in their interactions with consumers.
- Puts the needs and goals of consumers first.
- Listens deeply and sees and hears beyond how people might seem on the surface.
- Is collaborative and solves problems with us instead of for us.
- Keeps long-term care goals in mind while also meeting people where they are.
- Can instill hope, no matter what.

Billie Kay is well-known and much-admired for the excellent job she does keeping OTC a calm and safe environment. If a patient is upset, she deftly intervenes in a way that makes them feel heard and de-escalates them, but also makes it clear what the clinic rules are around behavior to keep OTC a welcoming environment for everyone.

As our Old Town Clinic has grown in the number of patients we serve, the staff we employ, and the services we offer, Billie Kay has been an essential part of improving patient access and the patient experience. Despite the countless moving parts that make OTC what it is, Billie Kay makes sure that the clinic operates as efficiently as possible.

Upon the announcement of her recognition, Billie Kay received a standing ovation from OTC staff. Clearly touched, she said through tears and, as always in her trademark Texas accent, that the award was especially meaningful for her in light of its namesake and past honorees.

"I look at the people that have gotten this and the person it's named after as being people with huge hearts, that everybody respects and loves. I see myself as just the people think of as just the enforcer."

Billie Kay's commitment to centering our clinic's work on the people we serve, her ability to collaborate to solve problems big and small, and her obvious love of our patients ensure that her colleagues certainly see Billie Kay as more than that. "I love my job and I love y'all," she said.

Congratulations, Billie Kay!

Past winners of the Sandy Anderson Award include OTC Care Team Manager Carol Weber in 2015 and Old Town Recovery Center psychiatrist Phil Shapiro in 2016.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: November 2017 Edition

Nov 30, 2017

This month’s spotlight features a volunteer who came aptly qualified for our Cooking Matters program, which is a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank that teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Having previously volunteered with a different Cooking Matters session and given her experience in the health care industry, she couldn’t have been a better fit to volunteer with the program! Linda Nguyen, who supervised Nickie in the program, said about her work, “The Cooking Matters team at Old Town Clinic was honored to have Nickie share her time and knowledge with our program. Nickie’s kind, calm, and compassionate spirit helped create a friendly environment where our clients felt safe and supported throughout the 6-weeks program.”

Read on to see why Nickie has continued to volunteer with the Cooking Matters program, and what was so special about the classes at CCC.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Nickie: My name is Nickie Dane and I am the Cooking Matters lead assistant.

P: And you had done the Cooking Matters program before coming to CCC, right?

N: Yes, I was a grocery store tour coordinator [with a Cooking Matters program] in North Carolina. People would be referred to this day of tours through the health department or WIC [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children], and we’d put on like six in one day, so people would come in and go through the grocery store and get a “10 dollar challenge” where they got to practice buying things from the different food groups.

P: And how is this class different than the one you had done before?

N: It’s different in that it’s over a six-week period, while those other ones it was just an afternoon, so they come in and get an hour or two hour tour and that was it. With this there would be follow up and participants would come in and talk about the recipes and what they’d done at home that was a little healthier. It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming. There were a good eleven people who did the whole class. I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health.

"It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming.... I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health."
-Nickie, CCC Volunteer

P: What is it about Cooking Matters that is meaningful for you and kept you coming back to it?

N: I work in the health care industry and seeing the lack of information given to people by traditional primary care providers about what people can do to improve their health as far lifestyle and food choice goes has been a big driver. I think that prevention needs a little more attention and if they haven't gotten it from their doctor then they can get it from other sources, like Cooking Matters.

P: What were the common questions or misconceptions that folks had?

N: So, some of the things that come up are like, “Why do we have to look at saturated fat?” So, we’ll have a conversation about heart disease and they’ll go, “Oh well, I have some heart problems,” or high blood pressure and that will lead us down the conversation of sodium intake and reading food labels. And they never knew they should look at that part of the food label and they didn’t know that sodium affected their blood pressure significantly. Because their doctor might have said, “Oh, try to cut back on salt,” but they didn’t really understand why or get into a conversation any deeper than that.

P: I think we do hear that a lot, just sort of, “You should eat better.”

N: Yeah, just really generic instructions and there’s not a how you should do that, or why you should do that.

P: Is that something that is part of the Cooking Matters program, more than just “you should,” but this is how this affects your body?

N: Yes! And not just that, but understanding how a recipe works and if you don’t have a recipe, how to take the foods you’re getting at the food pantry or what you’re able to purchase at a low price and how to make that into something healthy and also looking at things like leaving the peels on fruits and vegetables, because that gives you more fiber. And fiber is better for you because it helps prevent cancer and lowers you cholesterol, so these are things we all talk about in the class over the six weeks. Lots of questions, lots of “Oh, I didn’t know that!”

P: Were there any common reasons that folks weren’t always able to access healthy food?

N: I think one of the barriers living in this area is access to healthy food, so purposefully going out of your way to go to the bigger grocery stores to buy fresh produce. That is a big barrier, because it’s easy to just go down to that little convenience store that’s right there.

P: I think that’s something we can all relate to, if it’s hard to fit that time in to your week or you don’t have a car or reliable transit, just valuing food enough to make that time to make that trip and that effort.

N: Yes. And seeing that it’s not a huge hurdle. It can be a hurdle, but we took the bus to Fred Meyer so they got to see that it just took a few minutes.

Another thing that would come up is the kitchens that they have available to them. They would say, “Oh, I don’t have this, I don’t have an oven, I only have a microwave or a hotplate.” So we’d talk about different ways to get around that so you could still have the healthy food and the good options and kind of overcoming not having measuring cups, little things that we take for granted.

P: Were there any stand out moments from the class?

N: I loved the last day when everyone got to come together and talk about what they learned and the recipes that they liked and just got to hang out. I think a bunch of people stayed later and we all took pictures and everyone got a little award and an apron and they just talked about how much they loved it and how they want to take more classes.

The last day we also played food jeopardy. Alison [the lead chef for Cooking Matters] set up this Jeopardy board and prizes, like mixing spoons and things like that they could use, and everyone did so well remembering things like what temperature you need to cook chicken to and what’s the biggest way you can prevent disease or foodborne illness, which was “wash your hands,” which everyone knew.

I got to know some people and the hard things they’ve gone through and what they’ve overcome. And now that they’re getting back in to a stable lifestyle this is something where they can meet people and learn a new skill and take their health into their own hands. I think having something to stick with and to get out and meet people and interact with them was really good for several participants. There was a couple in there too and they used it as their date night. And one of them didn’t like vegetables at all, or only certain vegetables, so it kind of pushed him outside of his comfort zone. And that was cool to see.

P: And what was important about this experience for you?

N: Seeing how resilient people are. It was so neat to get to know people over these six weeks and hearing what they’re going through with their health and illness, rough backgrounds, and the social isolation and they’re just putting themselves out there and working to get better. When I work as a paramedic, I talk to someone for about 15 to 30 minutes, and that’s about it, and I leave them at the hospital, so I don’t really get beyond, “What are you feeling right now?” Working with this population, which I don’t get to do very often, it kind of pushed me beyond my comfort zone in effective communications and how to talk about things that are hard without being biased or offending anyone.

P: And what keeps you coming back to volunteer?

N: It feels so good, people thank you, and hopefully I’ll get to see people on the street now walking around in this area and say hi and catch up and make connections.

P: It’s a great reminder that we’re all in this space together and you can make a connection like that.

"It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community."

N: Just even walking over here, I try to smile at people on the street when I’m walking by and maybe they don’t get attention or noticed or whatever, so just smiling and saying hi and just watching them be like, “Oh, Hi!” It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community.

P: And for our traditional last questions, if you met someone who was on the fence about volunteering with CCC, other than that wonderful pitch you just gave to me, what would you tell them?

N: Oh, I mean, even if you just do a little bit I think that seeing other ways of life or confronting things that you have a bias toward or against, it just makes you feel more connected to humanity. It makes you feel more human. And more empathetic. That’s a big, big part of why I’m doing this. It’s so important to interact with people that you don’t normally and do something for another person.

• • •

If reading about Nickie and Cooking Matters inspires you to make a donation of items, we are in need of kitchen supplies to help keep the class going at Central City Concern. Our Cooking Matter Amazon Wish List makes it easy for you donate, or you can contact our Donor Relations Manager, Catharine Hunter at catharine.hunter@ccconcern.org if you have quality used materials from the list that you would like to donate.

And 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.



Continuing to listen to trans voices

Nov 16, 2017


Happy Transgender Awareness Week 2017! According to GLAAD, this special week, Nov. 13 to Nov. 17, is set aside to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

In this space last year, we shared about the numerous steps Central City Concern was taking to ensure that our programs and services, as well as the staff members providing them, were as affirming and inclusive of our transgender patients and clients as possible. This year, we want to provide an update on our efforts to do so!

Trainings: CCC continues to offer trainings year-round to our staff members about working with trans and gender non-binary patients and clients. Several lead staff members have also made it a point to attend trainings hosted by community organizations so they can share what they learn with our program staff.

We continue to encourage our training attendees to approach the sessions from a place of humility. What Eowyn Rieke, CCC’s Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, said last year continues to apply to our approach: “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.”

"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.”
- Eowyn Rieke, Associate Medical Director of Primary Care

CCC Director of Equity and Inclusion Freda Ceaser says that this posture has provided the organization with a blueprint to fully operationalize trans affirming program services across the agency. She says that in the coming year, her goal is to work with every CCC program to begin an initial assessment of procedures and policies to become more trans affirming and inclusive.

“It’s so rewarding to see how the work of health services intentionally recognizes and affirms the identity of each of our patients. I want every person we serve, no matter their gender identity, to feel accepted, valued, and respected.” 

Trans Support Group: Chrysalis, the trans and gender non-binary support group that formed last year in response to what we heard from our patients, has been thriving. Open to patients of Old Town Clinic (OTC) and Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), Chrysalis is a safe place where, according to facilitator Shanako Devoll, “people can talk about the difficulties of navigating everyday life and strategies used to address safety, mental health, and substance use.”

Group members say that Chrysalis helps them counteract the isolation they can feel by being part of a group that understands each other’s struggles and triumphs. At each session, attendees share their experiences, bring information about resources they’ve come across, and slowly build a community of shared experiences together.

The group meets bi-weekly. While the make-up of each meeting can differ, Chrysalis averages about five attendees each time the group comes together. Chrysalis is currently open to new members; in mid-December, the group will close for six weeks to allow the group members build trust and create the safe space they need.

"I want every person we serve, no matter their gender identity, to feel accepted, valued, and respected.”
- Freda Ceaser, Director of Equity and Inclusion

Electronic Health Records: Thanks to CCC’s amazing EHR implementation team, our health services can now make changes to patients’ gender identification information faster and easier than ever.  

Responding to the Needs of the Trans Community: As we continue to listen to our trans patients, we’re making changes that we believe are positive for them and the larger community.

All our multi-stall bathrooms inside OTC and OTRC now have signs that emphasize our support for individuals using the bathroom that best fits with their gender identity.

To better support trans patients and clients in substance use disorder treatment programs, our services are working toward making our urinalysis collection process more trans affirming.  

And finally, Margot Presley, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing Practice candidate, used her doctorate project as a way to seek out and listen to trans voices at our Old Town Clinic. Margot’s project, “Patient Engagement in Quality Improvement: Raising the Voice of Transgender Patients Experiencing Homelessness” used patient engagement and qualitative inquiry techniques to interview people about their experiences as trans patients of OTC. Their feedback was used to recommend changes to our clinic operations with the goal of better meeting their needs.

Her manuscript is in process of being published in Transgender Health, “the first peer-reviewed, open access journal dedicated to addressing the healthcare needs of transgender individual;” Margot also presented a poster showing her work at several conferences. 

• • •

Each year, Trans Awareness Week leads up to the Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, an observance to honor and remember those whose lives were lost to acts of anti-trans violence. There are a number of events in the Portland metro area to participate in that day. All descriptions are from the event hosts: 

Thursday, Nov. 16
Keynote featuring Jennicet Gutiérrez: How to Get Involved, Hosted by Portland State Temprr Month and PSU Queer Resource Center
: Join us for our TEMPRR keynote panel event with activist Jennicet Gutiérrez! As a founding member of La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gutiérrez's activist experience with transgender rights and immigrant rights has given her great knowledge on how to get involved with various types of activism. This panel will also have local activists who will answer questions and share more about their activism. (Link) 

Friday, Nov. 17
5th Ave. Presents: ReAgitator, hosted at Fifth Avenue Cinema
: Join us in honoring Trans Day of Remembrance a few days early with an incredibly inventive film from independent trans-filmmaker Dylan Greenberg. Her film Re-Agitator: Revenge of The Parody, tells the bizarre story of a mad scientist using a cynical serum to revive a beautiful woman back from the dead leading to complete and total chaos. Using an arsenal of homages and spins off of classic and modern horror, Re-Agitator is bound to satisfy a weird and experimental itch. The film will feature an introduction from Dylan herself, including discussion of her experience with being an indie filmmaker and multi-media artist in NYC. This event will be donation-based instead of our regular ticketing prices, all proceeds will go to the artists. (Link) 

Sunday, Nov. 19
Trans Day of Remembrance March & Interfaith Vigil
: Please all Transgender folk and Cisgender allies join us in reverence and solidarity to honor the fallen and make a stand against Transphobia. We will gather at Terry Schrunk plaza for a staging and a brief program whereupon we will process to the First United Methodist Church for a candle lighting ceremony for the fallen and a message of hope and renewal from local area spiritual leaders followed by a reception where light refreshments will be served. (Link)

Monday, Nov. 20
Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017, hosted at Portland Community College
: This event is being planned by the Portland Transgender community, with the support of Portland Transgender organizations, Portland LGBTQIA2+ organizations, and allies, and is being led by Portland Transgender People of Color. (Link)

Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial Meeting, hosted at Multnomah Friends Meeting House: We welcome you to join us on this day to mourn and honor the lives of those who have been murdered in the previous year because of anti-transgender hatred.

We gather to remember. We also gather to pray for, and to dedicate ourselves to work for, a world where transgender people are safe from hatred and violence. (Link)



Making Suicide Prevention a Routine Part of Care

Sep 11, 2017

national suicide prevention week ribbon and logoSuicide Prevention Week is Sept. 10-16, but preventing suicide is something Central City Concern (CCC) thinks about every day of the year. “Zero Suicide” is the national model of treatment that CCC’s Old Town Clinic (OTC) has adopted and integrated into all aspects of the primary care it provides to more than 5,000 individuals it serves annually. It’s a commitment to the idea that every suicide can be prevented with the right kind of care.

“No matter what your position, we’re all responsible for suicide prevention,” says Brian Barnes, Associate Director for Behavioral Health in Primary Care at OTC. Barnes explains that making suicide prevention a system-wide priority and a routine part of care is the key to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks. Having clear, established procedures is better for patients and better for staff because it normalizes prevention and helps everyone know how to get the right kind of help.

“Suicide prevention starts way back so that when we see a patient we are looking at the whole picture."

At Old Town Clinic, this has meant incorporating questions about suicide into regular patient visits, establishing new protocols to ensure that clinicians are aware of patients who have a plan to harm themselves and designating a suicide "clinician of the day" who can respond to help, usually within five minutes. An intervention by the clinician of the day can last several hours—enough time to really engage someone in a moment of crisis, gain new perspective on a situation that may seem hopeless and come up with a concrete safety plan for the day, which clinic staff follow up on. Implementing these changes entailed a team-effort at the clinic, with leadership for designing and operationalizing the new procedures from Susan Marie, Senior Medical Consultant for Behavioral Health in Primary Care, and Lydia Bartholow, Associate Medical Director for Outpatient Substance Abuse Disorder Services.

“This type of work is more typical in a specialty mental health setting,” says Barbara Martin, Senior Director of Primary Care at CCC. But in serving some of Portland’s most vulnerable residents, OTC aims for a comprehensive approach. Many of the clinic’s patients face struggles that make primary care especially challenging: finding housing, getting and keeping regular access to health care, or dealing with addiction and other severe mental illness. At the same time, health care providers can lean on CCC’s extended network of wraparound services in housing, addiction treatment, employment services and social support.

“Suicide prevention starts way back,” Barnes says, “so that when we see a patient we are looking at the whole picture.” It requires going beyond crisis-intervention and stabilization to address long-term needs that support overall health and well being. Recalling how the clinic staff helped one person who recently attempted suicide, Barnes notes: “We were able to get her treatment here, at Old Town Clinic, change some things with her mental health medications, and get her housed in CCC housing with programming specifically designed for people recovering from addiction. We consider all of that primary care, because it’s primary to the person, to their overall care.”

Having clear, established procedures is better for patients and better for staff because it normalizes prevention and helps everyone know how to get the right kind of help.

Barnes and Martin both emphasize that everyone can help make zero suicide a reality. Go with your gut, they say, and reach out to a hotline or many of the other resources available if it seems that someone is at risk of harming themselves. “The most important thing is to listen,” Martin says, “because the evidence shows that if someone is getting close to a point of despair, thinking about hurting themselves, they often talk to people.” And Barnes adds: “Every person’s behavior can be explained if you understand the context, but if you don’t have time to understand the context, then get someone who can.”

• • •

The Multnomah County Crisis Line is available 24/7: 503-988-4888. 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255
The David Romprey Oregon Warmline offers confidential peer support from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day: 1-800-698-2392



NHCW 2017: Serving a population where they live

Aug 18, 2017

On September 23, 2016, leaders from six Portland health organization gathered at Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center to announce an unprecedented $21.5 million dollar investment in the Housing is Health initiative that will fund three new CCC buildings in Portland. The crown jewel of this shining trio is the Eastside Campus, which will serve medically fragile people and people recovering from substance use disorders and mental illness with a health care clinic and 172 housing units.

“This significant contribution is an excellent example of health organizations coming together for the common good of our community,” said Ed Blackburn, CCC president and CEO. “It also represents a transformational recognition that housing for lower income working people, including those who have experienced homelessness, is critical to the improvement of health outcomes."

Each floor is designed to foster healthy peer relationships, with vibrant common spaces where residents, supported by CCC staff, can build community.

CCC will break ground on the Eastside Campus in late October 2017. The center will build on CCC’s existing Eastside Concern program, and will offer integrated housing and clinical services, including substance use disorder treatment, primary care and urgent care. More than 3,000 CCC patients each year will access care in a unique and welcoming health home environment.

The housing portion of the Eastside Campus will have about 172 units of housing, including short-term medical stabilization and palliative beds as well as transitional housing for people in recovery from behavioral health disorders. Each floor is designed to foster healthy peer relationships, with vibrant common spaces where residents, supported by CCC staff, can build community.

“It’s important to serve people where they live."

“It’s important to serve people where they live,” said Blackburn. “This project will replicate the integrated care we give at our Old Town campus to help people get back on their feet and achieve health and self-sufficiency.”

The Housing is Health initiative is supported by Adventist Heath Portland, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, OHSU and Providence Health & Services. The new construction includes the Eastside Campus, Stark Street Apartments and Charlotte B. Rutherford Place apartments on N Interstate.

The CCC Eastside Campus is scheduled to open in Winter 2019.



NHCW 2017: Adapting the system to work for our most complex patients

Aug 17, 2017

Central City Concern's Summit team takes care of our Old Town Clinic's most complex and medically fragile patients. Instead of expecting patients to fit into a health care system, the Summit team adapts the system to work for them by offering flexible scheduling, around-the-clock availability, and even home visits. Like many of the programs we've featured during National Health Center Week so far, the Summit team goes above and beyond to break barriers and narrow the gaps that keep vulnerable individuals from becoming as well and healthy as they can be.

We're so excited to share this video about Summit with you, which features Summit team staff and several Summit patients talking about what sets this program apart and how it impacts the lives of those it serves. A version of this video was originally shown at the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference in June.