"I can’t believe I get to move in here..."

Jul 13, 2017

On a perfect sunny July afternoon in Southwest Portland’s Lair Hill neighborhood, several dozen people gathered in the parking lot of Hill Park Apartments to drink iced coffee and celebrate the new building’s grand opening.

Soon-to-be resident Kellie Knight cut the ceremonial ribbon after sharing her story. “I don’t even have words right now,” she told the crowd. “I can’t believe I get to move in here and have some place that I can call home.” Kellie was addicted to drugs and in and out of prison for most of her life until she came to Central City Concern (CCC) in 2015. She now has full-time permanent employment and, for the first time, her own apartment.

CCC, Portland’s nonprofit serving people impacted by homelessness, poverty and addictions since 1979, opened the 39-unit housing building on July 11. It’s a three-story building on the edge of Portland’s southwest downtown area, close to transportation, parks and shopping. It will include supportive services for the residents of eight units that will be home to people living with mental illness. The apartments are spacious with ceiling fans and natural wood accents. The Earth Advantage-certified building is energy efficient with solar panels.

“We understand that downtown belongs to everybody. If we’re going to have a healthy downtown, we need it to reflect a certain set of values. Those values turn into people and those people turn into a diverse city that we can be proud of,” said Ed Blackburn, CCC’s president and CEO. “This building is adding to that.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler was there as well. “This is a community effort, one that we can all be proud of,” he said. “In my opinion, this represents one of the great ways this city comes together to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community get back on their feet.”

Commissioner Dan Saltzman shared that his family had moved into the Lair Hill neighborhood in the 1920s when it was predominantly occupied by Italian and Jewish immigrants. “This has always been a vibrant neighborhood,” Saltzman said. “I hope that these Hill Park Apartments will be as good to its residents as this area has been to my family.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury explained how the eight residents managing mental illness are receiving and will continue to receive appropriate support from CCC’s behavioral health staff. These residents are engaged with Central City Concern’s outpatient behavioral health program—the Old Town Recovery Center—where they receive many services and will have access to CCC’s proven integrated care models. They will also be empowered and supported in carving their path to self-sufficiency. “We know that by connecting people to the resources that they need they can overcome barriers and truly change their lives,” she said. “However, without housing there is no healing. Housing is indeed health care.”

Other speakers at the grand opening included Sean Hubert, CCC’s chief housing and employment officer; Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer; Jeri Young from US Bank and Margaret Salazar from Oregon Housing and Community Services.

     

Hill Park Apartments has 39 units: 17 studio and 22 one-bedroom. Major contributors include US Bank, Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority, Home Forward, Providence Health & Services, and Energy Trust of Oregon. Further, Steven Stone and Elana Stone Anderson of BedMart teamed up with Tempur-Pedic Mattresses to donate 30 mattresses for the incoming residents; the donation was facilitated by CCC's longtime partner, Community Warehouse.

The architect is Carleton Hart Architecture and the general contractor is Colas Construction, Inc.



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

Jun 06, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Getting the Most out of Life

May 30, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Another Successful We Are Family Fundraiser!

May 22, 2017

Central City Concern's annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs took place on Tuesday, May 2, at the Multnomah Athletic Club.During the program, CCC's Dr. Rachel Solotaroff sat down with Jamie (right) and her son, Dante (center), to talk about how CCC's Letty Owings Center and Family Housing have changed their lives.CCC Executive Director Ed Blackburn kicked off the program by welcoming the crowd of nearly 400.CCC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Solotaroff spoke about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), how they contribute to cycles of poverty, and how those cycles can and are broken.
Chief Housing & Employment Officer Sean Hubert spoke about generational poverty and the steps CCC is taking to provide housing for families in need.Former CCC Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Birenbaum made a heartfelt pitch to the audience of the need to support CCC's Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs.Dante was a fantastic helper during the evening-ending raffle!We were thrilled to have Letty Owings Center Co-Founder Nancy Anderson (left) join us for the evening, pictured here with with CCC Executive Coordinator E.V. Armitage (right).The evening's entertainment was provided by  Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Famer Shirley Nanette.

Central City Concern's annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and Family Housing programs took place on Tuesday, May 2, at the Multnomah Athletic Club. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

• • •

On May 2, Central City Concern held our annual “We Are Family” fundraising dinner for Letty Owings Center, celebrating 20 years as a Central City Concern program, and our Family Housing programs. The big event took place for the fourth consecutive year at the Multnomah Athletic Club in southwest Portland. Rain couldn’t keep the partygoers away and a good time was had by all.

The evening’s program was led off by Executive Director Ed Blackburn, then Chief Housing and Employment Officer Sean Hubert offered thoughts on generational poverty and the steps Central City Concern is taking to provide housing for families in need. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rachel Solotaroff followed Sean with powerful insight on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). She spoke of how CCC addresses childhood trauma while helping people break the cycle of addiction and poverty.

Our featured guest was Family Housing resident and mother Jamie, along with her 10-year-old son Dante. Jamie shared her story of overcoming addiction in the safe and supportive environment of Letty Owings Center, a six-month residential addiction treatment program for pregnant women and those with young children. She also talked about her transition from Letty Owings Center to CCC Family Housing, where she has a family mentor, has learned basic money management, and continues to safely raise and care for her three children. Jamie’s goals include pursuing a career as a medical assistant after completing the prerequisites at Portland Community College.

Entertainment was provided by Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Famer Shirley Nanette and Friends. Stumptown Photo Booth added to the to the picture perfect night.

All in all, close to 400 guests attended to celebrate and support our families and raised over $120,000 for the Letty Owings Center, which has witnessed the births of more than 270 babies, and the Family Housing program, which is home to 154 families.



Central City Concern Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2017!

Apr 24, 2017

This week is National Volunteer Week! With a robust and passionate volunteer program, Central City Concern has much to be thankful for. This year we’re celebrating the occasion by highlighting a unique volunteer partnership CCC has with our friends at Living Yoga all week long. Volunteer Manager Eric Reynolds provides a proper introduction to Living Yoga, as well as some reflections on what makes CCC volunteers such an essential part of the work we do to end homelessness one person at a time.

• • •

As I felt the sweat formulate and bead on my forehead, I continued to follow the instructor’s directions and focus on my breathing. Push my belly button, diaphragm, and chest out and steadily inhale through my nose. Bring my abdominal wall towards my spine and slowly exhale out of my mouth. In… now out. My arms started to tremble as the upright push-up, or “plank,” position I maintained seemed to be exhausting every muscle fiber between my evenly spread fingertips and my firmly planted toes. With only my two hands and 10 toes anchoring me on my rubber yoga mat, I knew my body “bridge” was going to lose its support and near a similar fate to London’s before too long. I anxiously glanced around the room to see if anybody else exhibited the same anguish I felt, but alas, each member of the class seemed comfortably focused sustaining their balance. After a timespan that unpleasantly felt like the longest flight delay of my life, the teacher finally gave the instruction to place our knees on the mat. I was the only participant to audibly sigh my relief.

At this point you might be wondering where this focused, intense, and physically trying yoga was taking place. Was this one of Northeast’s trendy new hot yoga classes? Or perhaps it was one of the catchily-named downtown studios like Yoga Pearl, Jewel Yoga, or YoYo Yogi? Or maybe it was… at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic!?

In honor of National Volunteer Week we’re excited to put the spotlight on CCC’s amazing partnership with Living Yoga, a volunteer-driven Portland agency whose mission is “changing lives by fostering healing and resilience in vulnerable and marginalized communities through trauma-informed yoga.” In collaboration with CCC’s Volunteer Program, each week Living Yoga sends instructors to our Old Town Clinic, Letty Owings Center, and Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center to conduct open classes for participants of those programs.

The grace, compassion, and thoughtfulness Living Yoga’s teachers share on a regular basis is absolutely tremendous. It is also well-worth noting that those are qualities shared by over 320 other individuals who have chosen to volunteer their time with CCC over the last year.

It can be easy for Portlanders to watch the evening news or read the newspaper headlines, feel as though the city’s underserved population is only growing, and fall into an “us” and “them” mindset. However, by taking the time to teach proper plank form, analyze recidivism rates, treat an open wound, or just serve a holiday meal, CCC’s volunteers have changed their focus from what is going wrong to what they can contribute to make it right. They prove that there is no “us” and “them,” but rather community.

After attending three different yoga classes throughout the agency last week I noticed a commonality between each (besides my own physical duress of course): laughter. The positivity that emanated from those classes is the same positivity that emanates from each volunteer who spends their valuable time with Central City Concern. So for that positivity, community, and work towards success, I want to THANK all of Central City Concern’s amazing volunteers on behalf of our organization and those we serve.

Although knowing how to perform a proper “plank” is not a prerequisite to volunteer with Central City Concern, knowing how to “support” the community we all share is.

 




Eric Reynolds
Volunteer Manager



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

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

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

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2017 Edition

Feb 28, 2017

When first sitting down to interview one of Central City Concern’s favorite administrative volunteers, Maureen, for February’s Volunteer Spotlight, it quickly became apparent that this chat was going to be unlike many before. Maureen openly shared her story regarding her lived experience on the streets, struggles with addiction, past criminality, and why these things motivate her to simply “lend a helping hand” today. Whether it is making the gravy (from scratch) for one of our residential community Thanksgiving meals or entering survey data regarding Old Town Clinic patient satisfaction, Maureen’s intimate connection with the services that CCC provides resonates strongly in each moment she is able to spend with us.

Our normal Q&A format couldn't do Maureen’s candor and humility justice, so for this Volunteer Spotlight we chose a small handful of unprompted quotes to share. Maureen’s unique perspective on homelessness, as well as CCC services, is tremendously inspiring and we hope you enjoy hearing from Maureen as much as we did.

• • •

“Well, how can you help another person? You know, I didn’t use to tell my story. I used to be ashamed of it. I used to be ashamed to say that I was a prostitute or I was a heroin addict or, you know, I was with pimps and I turned tricks and all of that stuff. But now, it’s a part of the strength that I have—the fact that I made it through alive.”

“I often hear people say, ‘I love living on the streets,’ but boy if you give them a hot shower and a clean pair of clothes and a room to sleep in, they’re ecstatic. But they tell themselves that because it makes it easier to accept their circumstances.”

“I want to always offer my conditioning of what I’ve been through to other people and say: it looks really bad right now, you are at the bottom, but there is a way for you to dig yourself out of this.”

“And so the whole point I guess that I’m trying to get to is that your organization not only represents me, but it represents me today.”

“When I started volunteering here I kept focusing on this as like my next stair step, you know? I’d done all of this other stuff with no contentment. Just like, working. It’s just a job. I’m addicted to helping people. I like giving up my time and energy more than I like getting paid to do stuff and it’s just a thing with me. You’re put here for a purpose and you can’t find it if you’re in the office working. It’s not going to be a monetary thing. It’s going to be something you’re giving to people to make them delighted, to make them feel happy, and so that’s what I am doing.”

“If your organization continues to do what it’s doing we can make sure that this slows down. Homelessness is an epidemic right now and it breaks my heart because of the inhumanity of it. The ignorance of it. When you see someone sleeping on the street and all you do is step over them instead of checking to see if they’re alive, something has to change in our society to make people see past a person’s dirt and their poverty because in today’s world we’re all just a step away from being there.”

“It was a great experience to see other people that really cared, that don’t do things just because. They’re there, they’re engaged, they’re asking questions, and they’re talking to people instead of at them. I got to know quickly some of people’s circumstances and I felt that they were in good hands. I thought they were in great hands with CCC.“

“Because I started from the street and I had nothing. A pair of high heels, a big purse with all of my drug paraphernalia, and the clothes on my back and I don’t have much more than I had then, monetarily. But spiritually I’ve gained a bucket load, a truck load, or whatever’s so big that I can’t fill it. And you guys allow me to continue to feel big like that. To feel important. I like to feel big and important and it doesn’t take money to do that, it just takes doing.”

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: December 2016 Edition

Dec 22, 2016

Old Town Clinic’s Wellness Program offers a variety of classes and activities to further patient care, healing, and connectedness within the Central City Concern community. This month we wanted to emphasize the outstanding work of Jeff Beers, an art therapy volunteer who Program Manager Moira Ryan refers to as “a co-conspirator toward the Wellness Program’s aim of encouraging self-acceptance while building community.”

In fact, when approached about Jeff’s wonderful service being the spotlight for December, Moira jumped at the opportunity to provide a glance into her work and experience with Jeff:

San Francisco-based artist Jeff Beers has years of experience working with diverse populations as an arts educator. Jeff joined us in July and has been a fantastic peer volunteer and co-facilitator of several Wellness groups. In our Art for Everybody and Art Journaling groups, he’s brought a more tactile experience of art-making as we practice trying out working with oils, inks, powder tempera, collage, collagraphy, and even found items! He draws upon his experience as a self-taught artist and encourages mistake-making, regularly reminding folks that we have permission to practice not being perfect here. Additionally, drawing from his experience as a certified instructor of Thai Massage, he’s developed curricula for a group we’re calling Eastern Techniques for Health and Longevity. In that group, we draw on trauma-informed somatic experiencing precepts as we explore tapping, brushing, acupressure, stretching, and other acts of gentle self-love.

With Moira’s enlightening recap of Jeff’s involvement, read below to hear his own words about how he utilizes personal experience with a desire to help others through one of his greatest passions—art!

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: My name is Jeff Beers and my volunteer positions are for Art for Everybody on Mondays, and then on Wednesdays we do table-top Games and then I lead a group in Eastern Techniques for Health. On Thursdays I do ceramics and the art journaling as well.

So a pretty wide array of activities. What’s your background?
My background is in art for the most part; that’s what I do. Every year I choose an organization I want to volunteer for. Money comes very low on my priorities so I feel like it’s a way I can give back since I can’t give back monetarily. So I just find places that I really believe in and then volunteer. I get to pay it back and do what I love.

How have you been able to use those skill sets to connect specifically with those that CCC serves?
Well, I really like the clients. I have a lot of admiration for them because I know that they’re struggling with one thing or another and I just admire their efforts to reach out for help and be there. A lot of the groups, they vary in sizes, but it’s just cool to see the people regularly and to be a part of their lives. And just to contribute whatever I can, which would be a positive attitude, and some skill sets, but mostly just showing these people my admiration for what they’re doing.

And I want to make it worth their time too. I always feel conscious that if people make the effort to be in the class or in the group it should be worth their while. I keep that in mind and try to get a lot of feedback from the people and just tune-in to what they’re interested in; that’s been a lot of fun.

Have you had any cool projects that have been more successful or well-received that stick out?
Yeah! In Art for Everybody on Mondays I’ve been having a lot of fun introducing different techniques to the clients and they’re usually always interested in at least trying it out which is great. They find their voice and the right materials they want to work with. Then all of a sudden they become artists. Before they were always saying, “I’m not an artist, I’m not an artist,” and that’s hard for me to hear, so I like to bring them forward and show them what they can find in themselves.

And then the Eastern Techniques Class, that’s been a blast. Although it takes more preparation for me to package and present all of these techniques I’ve learned through the years, it’s been a lot of fun. I ask the clients for a lot of feedback and they’re usually pretty forthright about just coming up with critiques so it’s been fun to constantly let that group grow in that way.

Do you feel like the activities are a good fit for CCC and the Wellness Program?
Oh, very much so. Your guys’ program is just fantastic. When I was a client I just was blown away by all of the services that were provided under one roof so people didn’t have to go to different parts of the city to receive different services. I thought that was great. Of all of the private insurances I’ve had in the past this was easily, no contest, the most fantastic clinic I’ve ever seen. And so, it was an easy choice to volunteer.

I mean you even have volunteers who work at Old Town Clinic cleaning up things, setting up different things, I think it’s great. I think your program should be like a model for most of the clinics in the United States. It’s a great example of what you can do.

And lastly Jeff: if somebody were on the fence about volunteering with Central City Concern or about getting involved, would you have any advice or words of wisdom for them?
For me, I’ve always had a respect for people no matter what their situation is and I want them to know that. I think it’s a good thing for volunteers to show their genuine respect or admiration and not feel that it’s something out of obligatory need. I’m blown away by some of the people CCC serves and what their stories are that they share. So I think for volunteers in general that would be the most important thing.

And I think that anybody that would find interest or have the time to volunteer at CCC should never have to have any doubt about the value of what they’re bringing.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



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.”

 



What's 100,000 Hours Good For? One CCC Program Knows.

Nov 16, 2016

Popular belief says that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. What, then, does 100,000 hours allow you to do?

At Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) program, those hours have been used to change people, provide hope, and make a wide impact on the Portland community through volunteerism. And on Wednesday, November 9, the CCC community gathered to celebrate the 100,000 total hours of volunteer service CVC participants have contributed over the last seven years, during which people affected by homelessness, addictions, or past criminality have gained work experience while giving back.

“What’s taken us so long?”
On what many remember as the rainiest day in April 2009, a 15-seat passenger van pulled into Irving Park in Northeast Portland. Twelve people—each recently housed by Central City Concern, engaged in CCC’s addiction recovery services, and unemployed (or, depending on who you asked, unemployable)—piled out wearing waterproof boots and plastic ponchos. At the direction of Portland Parks & Recreation, they quickly got to work pulling weeds and raking leaves in the downpour.

        

A blown-up photo that hangs in the CVC conference room commemorates this ragtag group, the first of hundreds that would contribute volunteer work all over Portland. Since then, CVC has brought work crews to an astounding range of local nonprofits, including organizations like Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, Free Geek, ReBuilding Center, and Oregon Food Bank. In all, CVC has partnered with 32 total organizations.

The idea for CVC grew out of a conversation Central City Concern Executive Director, Ed Blackburn, had with his father in 2008. Because it was the height of the Great Recession, his father reminisced about his experiences as a young man during the Great Depression. Much to Ed’s surprise, his father told him of the time he was arrested for burglary, and given two options by the judge: spend time in jail, or join the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program created during the Great Depression that put young men back to work.

He opted for the latter. His time there, Ed’s father told him, “changed his life. Saved his life. It taught him to appreciate teamwork and to do something good together with others. It prepared him for work in the long run. He learned skills and work ethic.”

Ed knew that many people arriving in Central City Concern’s addiction recovery and mental health programs, particularly those who had experienced great hardship on the street, had an intense passion to help people and to give back, even when they didn’t necessarily have the tools to do so. He also knew that they had a lot of time on their hands. So after hearing about how the Civilian Conservation Corps helped his father develop a foundation to be productive the rest of his life, Ed wondered if CCC could do something similar.


Several conversations with employees in recovery and meetings with potential funders later, the Community Volunteer Corps was ready to take that first van full of volunteers to Irving Park.

“The one thing I heard from everyone was, ‘What’s taken us so long?’” Ed recalled.

Participation in the Community Volunteer Corps gives CCC clients an opportunity to ease their transition into the workforce and increases their self-confidence. Volunteer projects—pulling ivy, painting over graffiti, recycling computers, building homes for needy families, beautifying parks, and so much more—give participants an outlet to be productive in tangible ways during a time when their recovery demands intensive self-work and self-care.

Furthermore, a common refrain among participants is that CVC allows them to “give back” to the community they feel they hurt or took away from while active in their addiction.

When clients enroll in CVC, they make a commitment to the program. But perhaps more importantly, they make a commitment to their future. During an average of two to four months, participants carve out time between recovery meetings, appointments, and other obligations to volunteer a total of 80 hours with CVC. During that time, they develop soft skills that are foundational to permanent employment: showing up on time, getting along with others, following directions, practicing good work habits, and following through on commitments.


Every other month, the Central City Concern community gathers to celebrate those who recently completed their 80 hours. At the ceremony, each graduate receives photos from their time with CVC, a certificate of completion, and a letter of recommendation they can attach to their future resumes.

Permission to Believe
Since that rainy April day, 1,600 people have participated in the Community Volunteer Corps. Of them, 1,001 have completed their 80-hour commitments to the program.

Hundreds of journeys have started with the growth and encouragement afforded by the CVC experience. After graduating, participants find themselves ready and qualified for permanent employment, a position that may have felt impossible just months prior. Graduates have gone on to become hired as maintenance workers, construction workers, truck drivers, real estate brokers, and even counselors.

Still, the CVC program is more than just a chance to develop marketable skills. Through shared van rides with work crews, conversations with CVC staff members who serve as mentors, and the simple act of doing something to benefit someone else, participants rebuild their self-worth and make amends to their community.

“It was so huge for me to get outside of myself and help someone else,” a graduate shared on Wednesday.

As a milestone, 100,000 hours, like each CVC graduation ceremony, feels final. But as anyone who has gone through the program will tell you, CVC is—more than anything—about building toward something bigger. Participants can dare to define their futures by possibility and potential rather than their past mistakes.

“Completing CVC gave me permission to believe that I could succeed,” another new graduate said.

Every day, Central City Concern engages people who are finding stability and looking to give back and get better. Because of them, the Community Volunteer Corps has no plans to stop at 100,000 hours, or 1,001 graduates, or 32 partners. There’s too much potential out there.