"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,

heaving,

broken,

hurting.

You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017



An Imani Center Graduation: A Victory Lap for Transformation

Jun 22, 2017

Linda Hudson, Director of African American ServicesA beautiful day in Peninsula ParkMalcolm, one of 10 graduates, shared a moving poem to encourage his fellow graduates.Larry Turner, a respected voice in the local African American recovery community.Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser sang a a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

On Wednesday, June 7, CCC's Imani Center program held its first-ever mahafili—Swahili for "graduation"—for ten clients who had completed the program. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

Isn’t this burden heavy?
Don’t you want to rise?
And join your people?
Don’t you want to rise?
It is all there for you. Yours to claim.
 
-Excerpt from "A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love." by Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Imani Center graduate

Wednesday, June 7 was a notably bright and sunny day in North Portland, a welcome break from the early-summer gray often seen in the Pacific Northwest. But for attendees of the Central City Concern Imani Center’s first-ever mahafali—Swahili for “graduation”—the brightest lights at Peninsula Park radiated from the clients present to be honored for their accomplishment.

The Imani Center provides culturally specific and responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment to the community. It is a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes a treatment model tailored to their clients’ experiences, created by staff members with lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience. According to Director of African American Services Linda Hudson, both the clients and the staff deserved a similarly distinct graduation.

“Graduating from such a unique program symbolizes accomplishment, change, commitment, and resilience. We thought it was the perfect time to have a family get together,” she said.

Some graduates completed their outpatient treatment in as little as four months; other graduates spent nearly a year in the program. All earned their graduated status as changed people who had developed the tools and found a support network vital to staying on the path of recovery.

The event started with Linda welcoming the crowd of about 40 people, which included Central City Concern staff members, graduates, and their friends and family. Also in attendance were several alumni of CCC’s Puentes program—a culturally specific addiction treatment and mental health program that serves the local Latinx population—that had forged a mutually supportive camaraderie with Imani Center participants over the past year.

Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer, followed Linda and shared remarks on what she sees as making the Imani Center so special: that it empowers clients to build a home for the community of African Americans working toward recovery in a way that the community itself wanted to shape it.

Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser wowed the gathered audience with a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Larry Turner, a pillar of the local African American recovery community, addressed the graduates directly, encouraging them to continue the hard work of recovery and to uphold their responsibilities to themselves as well as their community.

Finally, the graduates were each recognized for completing the Imani Center treatment program, and all had the opportunity to share their thoughts. While each of their journeys through the program was unique, a theme became quickly apparent: though these graduates had participated in recovery groups and programs before, it wasn’t until Imani that they were able to feel and benefit from genuine one-on-one peer connections based in shared cultural experiences.

Graduate Malcolm shared a piece he had written called “A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love,” originally written for his cousin and son, but perfect for this group of graduates and their shared journey forward.

A number of graduates also shared what helped them persevere: the Imani Center staff refused to give up on them, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on themselves.

And like the smell of roses in bloom at Peninsula Park, the feeling of gratitude—for the Imani Center, for people who finally understood, for the mutual care and trust between staff and clients, for recovery and hope for a better, healthier future—filled the air throughout the entire mahafali.

Though this first-ever Imani Center graduation required hours upon hours of planning, Linda believes it was entirely worth the effort and foresees many more graduations in the future.

“Our clients worked hard to achieve this moment,” Linda said. “It’s like taking a victory lap for transformation.”



Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2017 Edition

Jan 31, 2017

Our first Volunteer Spotlight of 2017 highlights the unique role of Dr. John Bishop, a clinician who has chosen to spend time in Old Town Clinic’s Wound Care Clinic. As the Wound Care Clinic program is in its relative infancy, our lead practitioner, Pat Buckley, had this to say about Dr. Bishop’s contributions:

“Having his expertise as we were developing the program was extremely beneficial because it really helped us ramp up the quality of care more quickly than we otherwise would have been able to… He’s the bomb.”

If you’d like to learn more about Old Town Clinic’s Wound Care program we recommend you check out the National Health Care for the Homeless’s Healing Hands newsletter, where they highlight this young, yet valuable, Old Town Clinic service. In the meantime, take a look below to find out both what distinctive challenges Dr. Bishop encounters while at Old Town Clinic, but also what makes the care process so rewarding to him.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: John Bishop, provider in the Wound Care Clinic of Old Town Clinic.

How long have you been volunteering with us?
About year and a half now; it’s been very positive. It’s a different kind of wound care than I was used to, a different kind of situation, but it’s been very positive. Good, nice, qualified people to work with... pleasant, friendly. I like the patients, too. The patients, for the most part, are very nice.

What made you want to volunteer at Central City Concern?
I decided to be retired. And moving to Oregon from Florida there was no real employment for me, financially, in a semi-retired level. I spent many years learning how to do wound care and I didn’t want to just give up that knowledge overnight. It took a long time to develop what I know and I didn’t want to just throw it away so I figured I could use what I know positively for a few more years. And since I don’t get paid, I’d rather take care of people who can’t pay [Note: All Old Town Clinic patients are on a sliding scale fee.] They need the care and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get it.

Have there been any surprises at Old Town Clinic so far?
Well, the biggest problem I have here is with continuity of care and follow-up. Part of it is me as I only volunteer but two times a week, but part of it is the patients that don’t come back. That’s probably the biggest disappointment.

Then again, that’s the challenge from which we have to work. That’s what’s different from my civilian or private practice before I got here. That’s just one of those things in the practice of medicine.

Have you tried strategies to combat that?
Well it does direct how we administer our care. We have to prescribe a type of care with the assumption that maybe the patient won’t come back. That way, if they don’t, they’re not going to get themselves into more trouble from the care. My philosophy is to be positive, develop a little relationship with them, and have them feel like I’m expecting them so that they might feel more of an obligation from that. I make sure to say “I will see you next week!” and I hope they think, “If he cares enough to be there to look for me I ought to show up.” I don’t know if that’s how it works but that’s my goal.

I like doing wound care, I like taking care of people, and I like seeing wounds get well. It’s a very satisfying thing to start off with a mess and then see the patient eventually walk out and to tell them, “Don’t come back, you’re all done!" And along the way, since many wounds are chronic, there’s a big effort to teach the patient how to take care of it themselves so that they won’t have to come back. I don’t know how successful I am with that but it’s always been my guiding light in wound care. It’s  "Okay, this is what I want to do; if it happens again, this is what you can do for yourself.”

Having practiced medicine at Old Town Clinic, if somebody were on the fence about volunteering here is there anything you would want them to know?
Well I think the volunteering business is pretty nice. The state of Oregon has their physician emeritus program that kind of gives you liability coverage and allows you to practice and keep your skills alive. It lets you use the skills you already have and I think more physicians ought to consider that.

• • •

If you are a licensed practitioner interested in volunteering time with Portland’s vulnerable populations, we recommend checking out the Coalition for Community Health Clinics, a community and care-driven collaborative (of which Old Town Clinic is a partner).

For any other Central City Concern volunteer inquiries, please visit our volunteer webpage.



Medicaid Waiver Extension is Good News for Central City Concern

Jan 13, 2017

On Friday, Jan. 13, Governor Brown announced the federal government extended Oregon’s Medicaid Demonstration Waiver for another five years, effective immediately to run through June 2022.

“This is great news for Central City Concern,” said Executive Director Ed Blackburn. “As a health care provider serving people with very low incomes or experiencing homelessness, we have many patients who are highly dependent on Medicaid to access medical, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment.”

In 2013, the year before Medicaid expansion in Oregon, 47 percent of CCC’s patients were uninsured; two years later in 2015, only 11 percent of CCC’s patients lacked health insurance coverage. This expansion of Medicaid coverage improved CCC patients' access to needed care as well as enabling CCC to offer a more intensive care model that responds appropriately to the needs of these high-risk populations. Without Medicaid expansion, CCC could lose the capacity to serve as many as 2,000 homeless and very low-income patients.

“We treat every patient as an individual,” said Blackburn, “and many of those individuals rely on the Oregon Health Plan to access desperately needed services. Lisa G. is just one example of the many people who need this support and benefited from Oregon’s Medicaid expansion here at CCC.”

Lisa G. was terrified of losing her health insurance. Before Medicaid expansion, the Oregon Health Plan denied her coverage three times. “It’s something I think about all the time. Without the Oregon Health Plan,” Lisa said, “I just don’t know where I’d be.”

Lisa, 23, used drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine for five years. She also struggled with bipolar disorder, which further complicated her ability to stop using drugs. She tried quitting with no luck, until eight months ago when she accessed recovery support services through CCC. In Lisa’s case, medication assisted treatment helped her tackle her opioid addiction, so she could then focus on her severe bipolar disorder and other medical issues at CCC’s Old Town Clinic.

Lisa now lives in supportive alcohol and drug-free recovery housing and works in CCC’s On-Call Staffing program. She hopes one day to become a peer mentor and help others to overcome their opioid addiction. Without Medicaid expansion, Lisa wouldn’t have had access to critical recovery services that led to integrated health care, housing and employment services.

“Medicaid not only supports these individuals in their health and well-being,” said Blackburn, “but also leverages other resources such as housing and employment, further enhancing the health and well-being of our entire community. Though there are uncertainties about health care on the national scene, we’re tremendously relieved Oregon’s Medicaid Waiver will continue for five more years.”

CCC is a large non-profit organization, founded in 1979 in Portland, OR, that serves people experiencing or vulnerable to homelessness by providing health care and recovery services, housing, and employment services. In the last year, CCC helped more than 13,000 people, most through our 11 Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) sites that offer integrated behavioral health and primary care. For more information, visit centralcityconcern.org.



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.



Following the Recipe for Health and Community

Dec 20, 2016

''The frittata and the carrot muffins were the favorite thing we made.'' -Stykhead (in red)''I feel more confident that I can leave here with what I learned as we cooked every week.'' -Josh''My favorite thing we made was shepherd's pie. Instead of using a recipe they gave me, I kinda put my own spin on it.'' -Tom (in green)
''The best part was learning, especially how to budget. And you know what? The volunteers… they really, really care. I didn’t think theyd be so personable, but they are. It really touched me.'' -Kristina
Next

Cooking Matters, a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank, teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

• • •

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in November, the kitchen of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Living Room community space filled with sounds most could recognize as busy food preparation. The rhythmic rocking and knocking of a knife, the hollow echo of water falling on aluminum, the unmistakable crinkling of plastic packaging being opened and emptied, and even the overriding din of playful banter—all there.

Behind that noise? Eight people, all participants and soon-to-be graduates of the six-week Cooking Matters program, a partnership between CCC and the Oregon Food Bank. This was their final session as a group, so they were reveling in the chance to put what they’d learned in the weeks prior to good use. And based on that kitchen banter, they were having a blast doing it—together.

Since their first session, participants had gained a soup-to-nuts education on the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits, including following recipes and meal planning, shopping healthily on a budget and maximizing resources, understanding food labels, and even knife skills and food safety. At the end of each class, they received a grocery bag of food with which they could replicate the course they made that day.

According to CCC Health Educator Kerith Hartmann and Population Health Coordinator Linda Nguyen, the Cooking Matters curriculum can help address a number of issues common among Old Town Clinic (OTC) patients: food insecurity, weight gain, hypertension, coronary issues, and diabetes or pre-diabetes.

In fact, OTC primary care providers had been clamoring for a nutritional guidance program for patients for years and Kerith had often recommended Cooking Matters classes hosted by Oregon Food Bank elsewhere in the community. But the idea to bring the class to patients instead of referring patients out became more and more appealing, and soon enough the need was undeniable. “You wouldn’t necessarily think that there would be a cooking class based out of a medical clinic, but it makes so much sense, especially for the people we’re working with,” says Kerith.

With Oregon Food Bank on board to pilot a Cooking Matters class at CCC starting in late spring 2016, it was off to the races to find participants.

Approximately half of the Cooking Matters participants were identified and referred by their OTC primary care providers based on their medical histories and the level of engagement with their care. Because Cooking Matters builds on each week of curriculum, patients who showed an active engagement in their own care would benefit most.

Other participants were recruited through CCC’s Housed+Healthy initiative, which coordinates services between CCC supportive housing services and CCC’s health care programs. The work Housed+Healthy staff members do within the walls of CCC housing allows them to show clients that Cooking Matters is well worth attending, even if that means showing up at their doors prior to a session and walking with them to the Living Room.

“People living in our housing are inherently good candidates to benefit from Cooking Matters,” says Permanent Housing Manager, Dana Schultz. “They’re living in low-income housing, so they have budget restrictions and limited cooking resources. On average, people living in our housing are about 59 years old, which is when you see a prevalence of chronic conditions that can be managed through diet.”

Dana adds, “Plus, people who live in low-income housing have to be proactive about combating social isolation daily.”

Knowing that, the sounds heard in the Living Room kitchen take on a slightly different meaning. Those aren’t just the clatterings of making a meal. It’s the sound of people—all some combination of vulnerable, unwell, or isolated—coming together as the ingredients of community. Over the course of six weeks, they’ve encountered unfamiliar ingredients, learned new skills, grown in confidence, and broken bread—literally—together. They’re not shy about talking of this community aspect, either.

Tom, a Cooking Matters participant, says, “My favorite thing was being around these people and being able to cook something with different people around and eating together.”

Another participant, Stykhead, says, “The camaraderie here is great. Getting together and thinking of how we can cook better for ourselves. It gives a whole new outlook on how to cook.”

For Josh, Cooking Matters helped her extend community to her home. “I was able to share the food I made with my housemates.”

Though Cooking Matters at CCC has only completed two cohorts, stories of the program’s impact can start filling up a small cookbook. One patient lost enough weight to get a surgery she needed. Another participant loved learning how to make burritos so much that he not only stacked his freezer with them, but also gave them out to friends. Yet another made a lasagna for her neighbors. A few participants who lived in the same building developed a friendship during the program and held potlucks after they graduated.

Kristina, a participant in this latest cohort, says, “I can actually do a prepared meal on a regular basis. Before this preparing meals felt so tedious and hard to do. But now I have a plan in my head and it happens.” She pauses and lifts her chin up proudly. “And my son likes it.”

“I learned a lot as far as being able to buy healthy,” Stykhead shares. “It’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it was.”

Based on the popularity of Cooking Matters, Oregon Food Bank has committed to bringing the program to CCC for three more sessions through 2017. Their partnership, which includes providing additional volunteers, the curriculum, and all of the food used during each class, has been extraordinary, says Kerith.

Incorporating Cooking Matters into CCC helps send clients and patients on a trajectory to a better quality of life, Linda says. Participants have secured housing; with Cooking Matters, they are working their way toward securing health and moving toward overall wellness.

“It’s a joy to watch people’s faces light up when they try a new vegetable they love or even hate. At the end of the day, they get to enjoy a meal with people they like. And having that group of people to do this with compels them to believe that they can make all these skills a part of their daily life.”



Celebrating Transgender Awareness Week

Nov 18, 2016

Nov. 14 – Nov. 20 is Transgender Awareness Week! GLAAD describes this week as a time to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

The transgender patients and clients we serve at Central City Concern are a valued part of our vibrant community, but they also face a number of unique barriers. According to CCC Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, Dr. Eowyn Rieke, people who identify as transgender are more likely to have difficulty finding employment and accessing housing. This, of course, increases the chances they become homeless and live in poverty, which is often how they end up as CCC patients.

Roran Everheart, an urgent care medical assistant at our Old Town Clinic, adds, “There is an overriding fear of being outed and ending up on the street. There’s a fear of violence.”

Our mental health providers also see a relationship between people who struggle with questions about their gender identity in isolation, and mental illness and substance use disorders. “Oftentimes we see that someone’s gender identity struggles play such a role in their mental illness that we actually see a relief of symptoms when people can make steps toward living the life that they believe is rightfully theirs,” says Erika Armsbury, Director of Clinical Services at our Old Town Recovery Center. “And the same goes with substance use—we see people who use substances as a means to manage whatever it is they are struggling with around who they are with respect to gender.”

Roran, who identifies as trans, understands some of this firsthand. “I wasn’t able to transition until I got into recovery,” he shares. “Gender identity is so complex. When you’re trying to figure out what your gender identity is, it’s a strain on your mental state. From my own experience, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is also homeless, addicted, and also trying to transition.”

These are the very real issues that affect the transgender community we serve; they matter profoundly to us. We also know CCC must continue working to extend the values of equity and inclusion to more and more people. In fact, increasing equity is an explicit part of our organization’s strategic plan.

In that spirit, CCC—particularly our health services—has taken steps over the last year to make our agency is more trans affirming, trans inclusive, and responsive to the experiences of transgender individuals. Staff members formed working groups. They held meetings, brainstormed, and prioritized. They consulted with our own health care consumers and colleagues.

Since that call to action, CCC’s health services have made significant advances to address the unique issues our trans patients and clients experience.

Trainings
Within the past few months, every single CCC staff member across our primary care, mental health care, and substance use disorder programs has gone through a “Trans 101” training to provide an understanding of the basics. The information covered in these trainings was intended to demystify trans issues, as well as to learn how to be an ally and interact with transgender patients in appropriate, sensitive ways.

However, Eowyn emphasizes that this is not about cultural competence; instead, it’s about humility. “Competence implies that we who don’t identify as trans ‘get it.’ Instead, we’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”

Old Town Clinic primary care providers received additional training on the basic medical care of transgender patients. In a separate two-session training, mental health providers at Old Town Recovery Center learned about working with transgender patients during the transition process, as well as their responsibilities related to writing assessment and approval letters for patients hoping to transition.

“We want to be sure out providers are on the same page,” Erika says. “[Providing letters] is something we want to offer our patients consistently, but it’s important for us to improve our larger understanding of trans issues because, for us and our patients, the letter isn’t the ultimate goal, nor is it the end of their journey.”

Providing CCC health staff with information doesn’t just benefit them. It’s also a way to take a common burden off our trans patients. As Roran says, “Having to train your doctor to be trans aware can be so exhausting.” Staff members who are aware of trans patients’ experiences drastically reduces the chances of retraumatizing patients with insensitivity and judgment. Instead, calling back to CCC’s goal of cultural humility, Erika says, “Even if we aren’t experts, we know enough to be open and accepting. We honor their experiences and all the things they come to us with. We can show that we want to work with them to tease out the severe mental health hardships while also supporting them around their gender identity.”

Transgender Support Group
Patients of Old Town Clinic and the Old Town Recovery Center can now find a community of support, thanks to a new group co-facilitated by Roran and Shanako DeVoll. Though in its early stages, Roran sees great potential for the group, named “Chrysalis.”

“A lot of our clients are pretty isolated in their lives,” Roran says. “When you start to navigate your gender identity without supportive family or friends, it can be lonely to not have that sounding board. This group gives them a chance to meet other people who identify as trans.”

The hour-long support groups make room for organic conversation to talk about struggles and victories, resources, and relevant topics. Roran and Shanako co-facilitate, but the group itself is largely client-led. It begins open for anyone for two meetings, then closed for the following three months to give the group time to develop a sense of community and trust. After, the group open up again. That sense of trust, Roran says, is imperative to our clients.

“Many of our clients face mental health and addiction challenges. There are already lots of groups out there for trans people, the feeling is that many of them feel cliquish. Clients with mental health challenges may not be able to navigate the social cues at larger, more established groups, so having someone like Shanako, a mental health professional, on board is great.”

Roran hopes to see the support group thrive. Early signs show interest is high, and people appreciate this opportunity to find an accepting community. “I hope that people want to come back all the time and that this first group will invite their friends to this awesome group they’ve discovered.”

Adapting Electronic Health Records
In a health care setting, it’s easy to forget infrastructure and technology can carry the same biases and blind spots that we seek to mitigate. Thankfully, CCC health services didn’t forget, and instead spearheaded substantive changes to our Electronic Health Records (EHR) system to, as Eowyn says, “reflect this culture change of becoming more trans affirming and inclusive that we’re working to embed within the organization.”

The most immediate and noticeable change is the banner when one pulls up a patient’s record. There, at the very top, is now an area that shows the patient’s pronoun and preferred name. Though small, this change will help staff interact much more appropriately in the way that the patient identifies.

The EHR system will also help health care staff ask appropriate questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, in both content and word choice. Staff members performed hours of research to learn about best practices for asking these questions, then adapted it to CCC’s culture to be even more inclusive than what the current body of research suggests. The goal, according to Eowyn, is to structure these questions in a way so “as many people as possible have a place to feel like they belong.”

Better, more inclusive questions means gathering better, more inclusive responses. This, ultimately, will help CCC health services track how we are serving our transgender patients as a whole. In that vein, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing student is planning a period of focus groups and one-on-one interviews during which trans patients and clients can provide direct feedback about how CCC is doing and how we can continue to improve.

Keeping the Trans Community Visible
Finally, CCC will continue to be intentional about talking about trans issues, whether internally within the CCC community, or externally with partners and constituents. (Even this blog post is part of that effort!)

According to Erika, “The more we talk about [trans issues], the more we see it, and the more we work with people who identify as trans in a safe, open, and aware way, it will have a ripple effect in the public.”

Knowing that, CCC will continue to bring stories of our trans patients, as well as the work we do to, as Erika says, “give people an opportunity for people to live as they see themselves.”

 



The Impact of Never Giving Up

Nov 14, 2016

The road has been long. It’s been bumpy. It’s been forked. And sometimes, it’s even been closed. But when Keva S. makes up her mind to start something… she finishes. A 2016 graduate of Oregon Health & Science University, Keva is now employed as a Physician Assistant at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic. She’s come a long way since getting clean and sober ten years ago.

As a child, bouncing between an alcoholic mother, a cocaine-addicted father, and foster care in Michigan, Keva couldn’t count on where she and her two younger brothers would be sleeping next. As a young adult, she moved to Portland, where an unstable and unhealthy lifestyle continued. After enduring years of addiction, illness, violence, and eventually homelessness, Keva checked into Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox. Soon after, she received a key to a tiny Central City Concern apartment and entered Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor program. There, “the world just flipped,” Keva says.

With new confidence and hope for the future, Keva engaged in Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center. An employment specialist helped her put together a résumé and look for a job. Soon Keva found a program that allowed her to earn certification as a phlebotomist. For the next seven years, she worked at a hospital, drawing blood. But Keva wanted to go further.

Watching resident medical students do rounds in the hospital where she worked inspired Keva to enroll in a pre- med program at Portland State University. A presentation she saw on homelessness and the need for Physician Assistants piqued her interest. So she set her sights on OHSU.

In 2014, Keva was one of 1,300 applicants for 42 spots in OHSU’s Physician Assistant program. Not only did she get in, she was a unanimous choice and received a scholarship.

In August, Keva graduated from OHSU and applied to work at Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic. Explaining her motivation for wanting to work at Old Town Clinic, Keva shares, “When you’re a homeless addict, not many people are nice to you. And I had had lots of health problems, so I got to see lots of doctors at lots of hospitals and clinics. The people at Old Town Clinic were the only ones that treated me with respect. They were nice to me. They were willing to see me when I didn’t have money, or insurance, or anything else—and just needed health care. That was huge to me.”

Keva’s first day was September 6, 2016. She started seeing patients in October. She believes her experience overcoming addiction and homelessness will give her unique insight into her new profession—working with people who may not have any money, or insurance, or anything else. “Despite all the resources that it takes, it pays off,” she says. “When you look at somebody like me, and the medical bills I would have had, and that eventually I would have ended up in jail … I would have needed public support forever, until my death. None of that happened. All of that money that would have been spent supporting me just to sustain my addiction didn’t happen because Central City Concern offered me help. And so instead, I’ve gotten to turn everything around. And make money, and donate money, and be productive, and give back.

“Central City Concern on an urgent level, stabilized me. They provided me with a home, so that I could go to treatment every day, and so that I could get that process started. They gave me a mentor. They gave me a whole team of people who told me I could do things when I didn’t think I could. They gave me back dignity. They gave me a life. They gave me the opportunity to hope for a life.

“Now I’m going to try and give that opportunity to other people.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: October 2016 Edition

Oct 25, 2016

In breaking the mold from our typical Q&A-style monthly volunteer spotlights, this October we wanted to bring a narrative regarding the transformational, sustainable, and invaluable work of Central City Concern's longest-tenured volunteer, Annette. Read below to hear from current and former staff members, and Annette herself, about the amazing impact her time has had on Old Town Clinic and those they serve.

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Central City Concern serves individuals who suffer from homelessness or low incomes through diverse programming focused on housing, health care and employment. Within one of our Federally Qualified Health Center sites, Old Town Clinic, lies the CCC Pharmacy which serves “the uninsured as well as those who have a hard time negotiating the outside world,” as put by CCC’s former Head Pharmacist, Sandy Anderson. It is here that CCC has benefited from the amazing service of Annette Moreau, a volunteer whose time and commitment to Old Town Clinic predates the pharmacy itself.

Annette began her time at OTC as a volunteer registered nurse in 1992 and soon shifted her focus from rooming patients and drawing blood to organizing the in-house medicine closet that was “just a mess” as she recalls. Creating a sustainable organization to the med closet, Annette inserted herself as the initial point-person for tracking any donated incoming medications, medication expiration dates, patient prescriptions and use, and a script system implementation. Thanks to Annette’s diligence the prescribing physicians at OTC were able to more efficiently track and access needed medications, allowing them to spend more time with their patients and less time digging around the med closet.

“Basically, my portion was to help out in any way I could as a volunteer,” describes Annette. “I just see myself as a cog in the big wheel that is giving the patients what they need as far as medications because many of these patients would not be able to afford them at an outside pharmacy.”

When one has a mental illness diagnosis, suffers from chronic back or joint pain, or needs assistance dealing with an ongoing condition such as diabetes, even the simplest of responsibilities may seem daunting. The most basic interactions can take an extraordinary amount of effort and regular tasks, such as visiting the doctor or pharmacy, can quickly overwhelm.

It is in these situations that Annette’s professional background as a registered nurse shines through. Kristine Palo, a CCC pharmacy technician, states that Annette’s earnest nature “just creates a lot of trust between the pharmacy and the patients; she’s definitely helped out with that.”

And adds Sandy, “A lot of [our patients] she knows either by name or by face.” In a clinic where the patient-practitioner relationship is truly vital for positive outcomes, Annette’s openness and encouragement oftentimes serve as a conduit for client success.

Annette’s 24-year impact at Old Town Clinic also extends to CCC’s staff members. “For the first time I was able to really learn about relating nursing with pharmacy,” expands Sandy. Annette’s time, composure, and consummate professionalism “really strengthened the inter-professional relationships between RNs and pharmacists and technicians. She taught us how to relate to RNs.”

In a clinic where more than 5,700 unduplicated patients are seen on an annual basis, strong staff cohesion across departments is tantamount to successful health outcomes. By exemplifying how healthily and productively RNs can partner with pharmacy professionals, Annette’s knowledge base, compassion, and charisma, in their own way, have led to better care for those OTC serves no matter the diagnosis, pain level, or condition.

In August 2012, after Annette had been volunteering with Old Town Clinic for 20 years, she had a minor setback. As Sandy Anderson describes:

“Annette was volunteering one day and I thought she had a heart attack! She just went to the floor and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh she’s had a heart attack!’ So I went and got Todd [a clinic physician] and we were asking her ‘Can you move? Can you move?’ and Annette is saying, ‘No! I can’t move, I can’t move! I hurt, I hurt!’”

As it turns out, Annette had been taking a medication that had slowly dissolved the bone tissue in her femur. On that fateful day Annette had actually shattered her femur while performing her regular volunteer duties.

But little could a broken femur and two surgeries keep Annette away from her volunteer shifts at Old Town Clinic. “She was using a walker for a little bit but she came right back as soon as she could,” says Kristine.

“Her dedication to us is just amazing,” reiterates Sandy, as Annette was back in the pharmacy by December of that same fall to help with whatever administrative tasks she could.

The CCC Pharmacy fills over 14,000 prescriptions each month for those who are either homeless or living on low incomes. There are now eight full time pharmacists and a bevy of pharmacy technicians, interns, and volunteers ensuring that those prescriptions are organized, handled, and distributed so that their patients don’t have to live in chronic pain and suffering while also navigating an oftentimes intimidating world to those who may be down on their luck. Before any of this growth—including a new state-of-the-art bubble-wrapping machine, insurance billing, and the current modern building—there was Annette.

Annette’s realization of the potential for growth and change at Old Town Clinic and within the pharmacy has made a true community impact that continues each day. What was once an afterthought—the medicine closet that Annette first began organizing and managing 24 years ago—now allows Old Town Clinic, and Central City Concern as a whole, to provide better services to more individuals in need. Without Annette, it is difficult to think such an impact would have been made.

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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.