Rooted in Community: CCC Volunteers

Aug 09, 2019

We close out our National Health Center Week 2019 series with a unique take on what it means to be “rooted in community” by focusing on Central City Concern (CCC) volunteers. CCC Volunteer Manager Westbrook Evans shares several ways our volunteers help CCC take root in our community, as well as how volunteers themselves become part of the community to which they give their time.

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This year’s theme of National Health Center Week is “rooted in community.” To honor this theme, we’re highlighting a group of people that elevates CCC's work and roots it in the broader community every day: our health center volunteers.

From administrative tasks and customer service roles, all the way to volunteer providers, more than 200 volunteers worked in our health care sites over the past year. On top of the positive impact volunteers have on our clients and staff, volunteers are often some of the best ambassadors for our mission. They share their work and experiences with their families, friends and co-workers. Volunteers truly spread our roots throughout Portland!

Check out some of the ways volunteers make a big difference in our community health centers.

The Living Room

The Living Room program is at the cornerstone (literally) of two Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) sites, Old Town Clinic (OTC) and the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC). The Living Room is a program for CCC patients who are living with and managing behavioral and mental health challenges, and serves the spiritual and community needs of patients engaged in our medical services. It is a peer-led, community-driven program, and a place for its members, CCC staff and our members of the broader community to come together and support one another through activities, conversations and relationships.

According to Living Room Coordinator Hayden, volunteers are an integral part of the work the program does. Volunteers participate as part of a service team alongside staff, helping set up and facilitate Living Room activities. Most importantly, they spend time with members building relationships while participating in the programing. An important part of well-being is building and creating positive community connections.

Volunteers often help to bridge the gap between paid staff and users of CCC services. I asked Beau, a Living Room volunteer, what being “rooted in community” means to him in relation to his volunteer role. “To me, it means people. People make up a community with the knowledge and ideas they share with each other.”

We are so grateful that the Living Room volunteers show up every day to share this experience and build the community.

Clinic Concierge Program

The Clinic Concierge program is in its fifth year at OTC. The concierge role is part of CCC’s goal to create a clinical environment where those alienated from mainstream medical services feel welcome. When a concierge is on shift, visitors are always met with a friendly smile. As in the Living Room, knowing that the volunteers show up just because they want to be there emphasizes that our patients are valued members of the community. In the words of an OTC staff member:

“The concierge program has been awesome. They may be the first point of contact when someone walks into the building. They are full of information and resources, and may have a friendly conversation with our patients or help the patient to find their way around the clinic.

“Patients are always really happy to see them; they are one of the first people they see or approach. Concierges improve patient flow. We get so busy up front that sometimes we forget to smile, but the concierges are always ready with one. Some form really good rapport with the patients. The concierges make an effort to let patients know they are welcome here by learning their names, their pets’ names, and remembering specific facts about them. They are a lovely presence here in the clinic.”

Other volunteer activities

Within OTC and OTRC and across our 13 FQHC sites, volunteers assist in many more ways. We have volunteer pharmacists, medical providers, administrative and data entry assistants, translators and more, all freely giving their time and energy to our clients and staff. We are so grateful for all our volunteers and how they root our health centers in the community!

To learn more about volunteering in our health center, visit our volunteer opportunities page.



Rooted in Community: Puentes

Aug 08, 2019

Since Ricardo shared with us last year in our CCC TurningPoints series that receiving treatment services from Central City Concern’s (CCC) Puentes program in his native Spanish language “was like music,” we’ve heard from many others who shared the same sentiment. Roberto, who also went through our culturally specific behavioral health program for Spanish speakers, says that his time receiving Puentes services helped him “feel like I belonged to a group of people that want to help the Latino community.”

But offering services in Spanish is only part of Puentes’ story. Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust. Puentes was never intended to simply drop into the Latinx community from above; Puentes staff members are the Latinx community, responding to the needs of their own. Puentes has worked hard to demonstrate that their services respect and respond to who the community is. They understand the Hispanic culture — in all its beauty, as well as its barriers — and the community has responded in kind.

Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust.

“Most Puentes staff are active community members inside and outside of Central City Concern,” shares Daniel Garcia, CCC’s director of Latinx services. “At Puentes, our clients finally feel at home, not only because we speak their language, we also understand their culture and their unique stories and histories.”

Historically in Multnomah County, the Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by poverty and by a lack of access to preventive services, including the knowledge of where to seek help, location of treatment facilities and childcare. Lack of insurance coverage has also been a significant barrier; even after Medicaid expansion in Oregon, documentation status still kept many from applying. The lack of Spanish-speaking providers who are trained to understand and meet the needs of Latinx individuals and families had also been a barrier to receiving care.

To start bridging the gap in treatment access, CCC received a federal grant in 2004 to serve Latinx families at risk of homelessness due to substance use disorders. Originally called Family Latino Outreach and Addictions Treatment (FLOAT), the program approached potential clients with care and humility, leaning on a partnership with Catholic Charities’ El Programa Hispano to establish trust with the Latinx community.

... from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment...

Simply interpreting Western-style behavioral health treatment into Spanish would be setting up the program and its clients to experience many of the same cultural barriers to care and underwhelming results. Rather, from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment, including:

  • Personalismo: upending the mainstream approach of providing care that is detached, overtly clinical and relatively impersonal, Puentes staff are intentional about being warm, willing to make a personal connection and self-revealing.
  • Respeto: Puentes staff understand that clients may avoid expressing doubt, disagreement or confusion in conversations with them, as Latinx culture lends significant importance and influence to authority figures like parents, elders and health care providers. In response, staff are trained to ask smart questions, listen to individual’s stories and validate their experiences.
  • Familismo and colectivismo: Puentes often embraces the potential that the family unit holds in the therapeutic process and its role in helping clients remain in treatment. The extended family serves as a support system for all members and puts the collective needs of the family above those of the individual.
  • Spirituality: The Latino culture tends to view health from a holistic position, implying a continuum of body, mind and spirit. Many cultural values and attitudes are heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs that, in some cases, may become a barrier to care. On the other hand, la espiritualidad can provide a positive foundation for well-being and recovery.
  • Gender roles: The concepts of machismo and marianismo that reinforce gender roles can often be barriers for clients to talk about their addiction, mental health and traumas. Puentes staff provide treatment with an understanding of how these values affect how forthcoming and willing clients are about their addiction or mental health.

Some research suggests that Latinx clients, especially newcomers and Spanish-speaking clients who see Latinx therapists (who are both bilingual and bicultural), are more likely to remain in care and to have better outcomes. For people like Roberto, working with staff members who not only understood the values he was raised in but also created a treatment environment that acknowledged and worked within them “helped me have a special connection with the staff and even other clients of Puentes. I trust Puentes.”

Puentes has done well to earn that trust from its community of clients. People receiving care from the program have seen the program grow thoughtfully to continually respond to their needs: in addition to substance use disorder and mental health treatment, Puentes offers treatment for co-occurring disorders, early and specific interventions for Latinx youth who are using substances and are gang-affected, family support and connections to CCC’s primary care services. The program has even moved locations several times to relocate closer to the centers of Portland’s Latinx community, increasing accessibility.

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

“Geographically, we are so far removed from our home Latin American countries, and yet there is a place named Puentes, where Spanish-speaking people can come and receive treatment,” says Daniel. “We treat each person with the utmost friendliness, dignity, kindness and respect, leaving our clients without fears of being discriminated against, misinformed or misdiagnosed.”

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

The special connection that Puentes creates has also led to the development of a community within a community. Many people who complete treatment stay close to Puentes through El Senado, an advisory committee of former clients who find ways to give back and provide peer support and encouragement to newer clients. Empowering a community to recognize the collective strength of its experiences and to play an active role in its own healing is perhaps one of the truest hallmarks of how deep Puentes’ roots in the Latinx community have grown to reach.

“I am so proud that we can all — clients, former clients and staff —be leaders in and for our own community,” Daniel says.



Rooted in Community: Imani Center

Aug 07, 2019

Walk past the Imani Center on a sunny day and you’ll likely be greeted by a mix of staff, clients and neighbors chatting and connecting outside. An atmosphere of camaraderie is palpable, but it’s no coincidence that community building is a key feature at the Imani Center. In fact, it can be traced back over a century ago to the very building where the Imani Center now resides.

The Imani Center was once home to the Golden West Hotel, which opened in 1906 as the first hotel in Portland to accommodate Black patrons. Nestled between two of the most prominent Black churches in the city at the time, the Bethel AME Church and the Mount Olivet Baptist Church, the Golden West quickly became a social and business hub for Portland’s African American community. In addition to a hundred hotel rooms for Black workers who were denied accommodation in Portland’s white-owned hotels, the Golden West housed a number of Black-owned businesses including a barbershop, an athletic club and an ice cream parlor/candy shop. After 25 years in business as the largest Black-owned hotel west of the Mississippi, the Golden West was forced to close in 1931 due to the Great Depression.

The legacy of exclusion that spurred the founding of the Golden West Hotel was not unique – from the very start, Black communities were not supposed to exist in Portland or anywhere else in the state. Oregon joined the Union in 1859 as a “whites-only” state where African Americans were barred from living, working or holding property. In the 1920s, Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership per capita of any state, and KKK member Walter Pierce was elected governor in 1922. Oregon refused to ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote, until 1959, and did not ratify the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all Americans, until 1973.

The legacy of exclusion that spurred the founding of the Golden West Hotel was not unique – from the very start, Black communities were not supposed to exist in Portland or anywhere else in the state.

In addition to exclusion, Black Portlanders faced displacement throughout the twentieth century, making it difficult for African American residents to maintain close-knit neighborhoods and communities. Urban renewal and industrial expansion projects such as Interstate 5, Highway 99, Emanuel Hospital, the Civic Center, the Memorial Coliseum and others displaced thousands of residents in the predominantly Black Albina neighborhood. In 1948, one of the only places in Oregon where African Americans could buy houses – the city of Vanport – was decimated in a single day due to flooding, leaving 18,500 residents – 6,200 of whom were Black – without a place to live. This history isn’t relegated to the past: Portland remains the whitest major city in the US, with persistent racial disparities in employment, poverty, homelessness, health outcomes and incarceration rates.

Despite more than a century of exclusion, displacement and disinvestment in Portland and throughout Oregon, our African American communities have rich histories of resilience and strength in the face of racial discrimination and prejudice. And in many ways, the Imani Center carries this torch. The Imani Center is the result of Central City Concern listening to the experience and knowledge of the African American community and responding to the need for culturally specific leadership, treatment and support services. Since 2015, the Imani Center has provided comprehensive approaches to mental health and addictions treatment for African Americans, by African Americans. Imani Center’s services empower clients to build community with other African Americans working toward recovery, with the support of staff members who have lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience.

One way clients at the Imani Center build community is through peer support. Peer Service Specialists “wrap around” clients both inside and outside Imani Center to support them in navigating mental health struggles, addiction and recovery. As clients work to change their lives, they are surrounded by a peer who understands not only the experience of recovery, but the unique challenges of navigating mainstream treatment programs as an African American. The result is a pathway to recovery built on shared cultural experiences and genuine peer connections.

Like the Golden West Hotel, which was situated between two of Portland’s most important Black churches, the Imani Center is similarly built on a foundation of faith and the sense of community that flows from it.

Like the Golden West Hotel, which was situated between two of Portland’s most important Black churches, the Imani Center is similarly built on a foundation of faith and the sense of community that flows from it. “Imani” is Swahili for “faith,” representing the faith that Imani Center seeks to instill in clients: faith not only in themselves and their journey, but in the support of their community to help them reach their highest potential.

The Imani Center and the Golden West Hotel share much more than a building. Deeply rooted in the shared history that brought so many African American workers and families to the Golden West Hotel at the start of the 20th century, the Imani Center stands in stark contrast to Portland’s legacy of race-based exclusion and displacement. As Imani Center clients heal from their past and current experiences with addiction and mental health struggles, they also help to heal wounds wrought by Portland’s past. By building a home for African Americans working toward recovery, the Imani Center continues the Golden West’s legacy of faith, resilience and community.



Rooted In Community: Reflecting on Blackburn Center's First Month

Aug 06, 2019

It's been just over a month since Central City Concern started serving patients and residents at Blackburn Center, our newest community health center site with integrated housing and employment services. For our second National Health Center Week post, we asked Dr. Eowyn Rieke, director of Blackburn services, to reflect on its first few weeks serving the community. Here, she reflects on the impact they're beginning to make and her hopes for how Blackburn Center will deepen its roots in the surrounding community.

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It was Wednesday, July 3 — just the second day of services at Central City Concern’s Blackburn Center. I was walking around our newly opened clinic lobby in an effort to connect in person with new clients to welcome and thank them for coming in. One of the first clients I spoke with said to me, “I can’t believe all these services are in the same place. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.” We were offering her primary care, medication for substance use, and mental health care, with the hope for a placement in housing once she was in substance use treatment.

“It is too bad you have to be poor to get these services. I used to have private insurance and I never got care this good,” another client told me. He was at Blackburn Center to receive intensive substance use treatment and physical health care services and planning to connect with employment services soon.

And another new client, referred to Blackburn Center from CCC’s Hooper Detox, confided, “I knew I needed a primary care provider but I didn’t know how to get one. Then I went to Hooper and everything started to fall in to place.”

These clients represent several of our core principles at Blackburn Center: client-centered care and integration, with a focus on meeting clients where they are and offering an array of services, all focused on helping them move forward in their lives.

"I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.”

My colleagues and I spent a few years dreaming about these services and how we’d deliver them, and worked remarkably hard to design them. A month ago, we finally opened our doors to serve the community. In our first month we’ve served 450 people across Blackburn Center’s housing, health care and employment services. Some of our most significant accomplishments since we opened include:

  • Successfully moving our Eastside Concern outpatient program to Blackburn Center, with its staff making incredible efforts to complete assessments for new housing residents referred from Hooper Detox
  • Getting 33 of our 34 permanent homes occupied
  • Getting 33 of our 80 transitional housing units occupied, with new residents coming from a wide range of referral partners in the community, including Women’s First, NARA, CODA and Multnomah County, as well as CCC’s own Hooper Detox, Puentes and Blackburn substance use disorder programs
  • Serving more than 100 new clients with primary care services
  • 90 referrals to employment services
  • Enrolling 20 new clients in our low-barrier Suboxone program
  • Managing the Recuperative Care Program’s (RCP) move from downtown Portland into Blackburn Center and admitting many new residents each week while RCP staff continue to provide excellent care and case management

As the director of Blackburn Center, one of the things that excites me most — one of the clearest visions for Blackburn Center that we’ve carried since we started dreaming of the building — is its eventual role in the community as a hub of activity for our neighbors and clients: a place people can come to get a wide array of health services, as well as a space to host community events that bring people together to share their joys and struggles.

While the building itself is beautiful, and our services have already kept us busy, I look forward to inviting even more stories, struggles and victories into Blackburn Center. One of the ways we’ll start doing that soon is by hosting many community-based recovery groups in our Weinberg Community Room, an open and light-filled gathering space on the building’s first floor. These groups will be open to the community and will offer new opportunities for people in recovery to gather and support each other in their East Portland neighborhood.

... one of the things that excites me most — one of the clearest visions for Blackburn Center that we’ve carried since we started dreaming of the building — is its eventual role in the community as a hub of activity for our neighbors and clients...

Our first month of Blackburn Center was focused on getting our services up and running; now we turn our attention to building and deepening our relationships with community groups to work toward our ultimate goal of ending homelessness. We work closely with health and social service organizations also doing work in East Portland, including Bridges to Change, Multnomah County and Transition Projects. Working together, we can strengthen the safety net for people experiencing homelessness and build new opportunities for them to move into housing and more stable lives. We will also open mental health services in the next few months to meet the needs of our community members struggling with severe mental illnesses.

Every connection we make is one string in a web that supports our neighbors. We look forward to many years working with partners to build a strong net that helps all of us build healthier community.



Rooted in Community: Old Town Clinic

Aug 05, 2019

For 40 years, Central City Concern (CCC) has been caring for people in Portland who are impacted by homelessness. In the late 1970s, we offered recovery treatment with housing, which was a new but logical approach: it’s easier for people to get better if they have a place to live. This was the beginning of CCC’s deep roots in the Portland community that expanded through the decades with new ideas and innovations in response to evolving patient needs.

By the early 80s, Old Town was only a few years removed from the height of living up to its “Skid Row” reputation. Thankfully, agencies were beginning to make headway toward helping people into better, more stable situations. For example, Burnside Consortium (as CCC was then known) sprouted up a few years earlier to save and increase the safety and maintenance of the single room occupancy (SRO) housing stock in the neighborhood and to fund local alcohol treatment providers. In 1983, Old Town Clinic (OTC), a small medical but sorely needed facility run by the Burnside Community Council, opened in neighborhood fixture Baloney Joe’s, a shelter serving homeless people located at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

OTC moved to W Burnside and Third Ave in 1985; the next year Ecumenical Ministries took over management and continued to run the facility, providing primary care to the neighborhood’s homeless population for the next 15 years.

In 1983, Old Town Clinic (OTC), a small medical but sorely needed facility run by the Burnside Community Council, opened in neighborhood fixture Baloney Joe’s, a shelter serving homeless people located at the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

By 2001, CCC had recognized just how important health care is for helping people to realize their full potential; we took over management of the clinic. A decade of running CCC’s Portland Addictions Acupuncture Clinic (later renamed the Portland Alternative Health Center), which provided acupuncture, naturopathic and light primary care services to those living in and around Old Town, demonstrated the importance of comprehensive care to the success of long-term recovery. Assuming OTC’s operations solidified our commitment to providing holistic care. We quickly expanded the clinic’s services while continuing to operate in a low-cost setting. OTC began to offer both primary and naturopathic care, preventive exams, injury treatment, and connections to mental health and substance use disorder services. The clinic became a crucial starting point to help many patients end their homelessness and began a path to better health. 

Gary Cobb, CCC community outreach coordinator who has been with the agency since 2001, remembers how things fell in to place for the Old Town Clinic, as if it was all meant to be. “Sometimes you can’t sit and wait for opportunities to arise,” he said. “You need to jump and make things happen.”

At first, OTC operated under Multnomah County’s Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) status. But in 2003, CCC became its own FQHC site. This new designation allowed CCC to receive federal reimbursement for uninsured and underinsured poverty-level clients, opening up opportunities to bring much-needed medical services to our other programs like Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center, Letty Owings Center and the Community Engagement Program. (CCC now has 13 FQHC sites.)

“Sometimes you can’t sit and wait for opportunities to arise. You need to jump and make things happen.”

In 2003, OTC moved temporarily to NW 5th Ave. and Everett for about a year. But in 2004, CCC opened a shiny new building on W Burnside and Broadway where OTC and PAHC essentially consolidated into a single program to offer both primary care and complementary medicine services under the same roof. Old Town Clinic and our pharmacy continue to thrive there today. “We had leadership who had been community organizers, so their expertise in building relationships made the clinic into the national model it is today,” said Cobb.

OTC began a partnership with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in 2006. This partnership placed volunteer OHSU resident physicians in safety net clinics where they are trained by CCC staff to meet the medical needs of Portland’s homeless and low-income community. This “social medicine” partnership was a mutually beneficial one that allowed CCC to expand its medical services while training a future physician workforce to be familiar with and responsive to the needs of safety net clinics’ patient populations.

When Oregon began its statewide health system transformation to coordinated care organizations (CCOs) and expanded Medicaid coverage, CCC jumped on board to help achieve the triple aim of better care, better health and lower costs for all Oregonians. In 2012, CCC joined 10 other local health care and social service organizations to become a founding member of Health Share of Oregon CCO, which serves Medicaid members in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

In 2013, OTC was one of a handful of clinics nationwide singled out by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as an “exemplar practice” for our innovative work making health care more accessible to patients. The clinic hosts many innovative teams and programs, such as the Summit team that treats medically complex and fragile patients with integrated flexible care.

Being part of an organization that also provides affordable, supportive housing also gives OTC an unprecedented opportunity to serve its surrounding community. With some ingenuity, CCC’s Housed and Healthy program breaks down walls to lower barriers to quality care for hundreds of area residents.

Being part of an organization that also provides affordable, supportive housing also gives OTC an unprecedented opportunity to serve its surrounding community.

OTC and its pharmacy recently began using highly effective drugs to treat hepatitis C, a serious chronic liver disease that can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and even death. Oregon’s rate of hepatitis C is one of the highest in the country, and people with substance use disorders experience higher rates of hepatitis C. In 2018, OTC treated and cured 107 people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus, giving them a much healthier and brighter future. This treatment program continues to save lives.

Through OTC has hopped around the neighborhood and changed management over the past 36 years, one thing has always been constant: caring for the community that needs us the most. We respond to challenges with new ideas, and grow stronger with change. And we welcome and honor the people who entrust us with their health; they are the reason we’re here.



Rooted in Community: CCC Celebrates National Health Center Week 2019!

Aug 05, 2019

Happy National Health Center Week (NHCW) 2019! NHCW is one of my favorite times of the year, because it gives us an opportunity to pause and gratefully reflect on the compassion and dedication of the people and communities who personify the health center movement and its values.

Health centers were born in the early 1960s, at a time when American society was grappling with its values: how we live together, celebrate and honor each other, and care for each other. Today, we find ourselves once again facing these fundamental questions. Central City Concern (CCC) is committed to a culture of inclusion where the personal dignity and worth of each individual is valued and celebrated, and these values are lived across our services, including in our 13 Federally Qualified Health Center sites.

One of the most special aspects of CCC is the organization’s ability to provide services in response to the needs of specific communities, whether those communities are based on geography or by affiliation. As the 2019 NHCW theme is "Rooted in Communities," we wanted to celebrate this week by sharing the stories of programs and people across the organization who are doing just that. Visit the CCC blog throughout the week to learn more about Old Town Clinic, Puentes, Imani Center, Blackburn Center and more — programs that respond to, honor, elevate, and become part of the communities we have the privilege of serving.

Leslie Tallyn
Director of Performance Improvement



"Transformation" Mural Brings the CCC Story to Life

Jul 30, 2019

The mural is located in the second floor lobby of Blackburn Center.Baba Wagué Diakité fills in a pattern. Portland artist Kendra Larson assisted Wagué throughout the project.Ronna Neuenschwander, a professional artist represented by Froelick Gallery and Wagué's wife, worked by his side and was a constant presence throughout the entire mural project.

"Transformation" is a wall-length mural in CCC's Blackburn Center, designed and painted by Baba Wagué Diakité, and partially funded by Regional Arts and Culture Council. The mural is based on the stories of CCC clients and staff. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.


The walk up the steps from the main lobby of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Blackburn Center to the second floor is an exercise in slow revelation. “Transformation,” a new mural created for Blackburn Center by renowned Portland artist Baba Wagué Diakité, is positioned at the top of the stairs to meet all visitors — less a gatekeeper and more a welcoming party.

Upon the very first stretch of the upper floor wall that comes into view, it takes a second to register the figure of a vibrantly colored tree, evaporating any expectation of a sterile, sparse waiting room. Your eyes can’t help but trace left to follow the procession of animals large and small, winged, scaled and legged. Bright music notes pop out from what you quickly realize is a mostly black and white, wall-length mural of a fantastical scene framed in earthy gold.

As you reach the top of the steps and approach the wall, you notice the impossibly intricate patterns that fill in the animal outlines. Only now do you find a mandala of words: “hope,” “caring,” “journey” and “joy,” among others. And as much as you want to press your nose up to it, you feel similarly pulled to take several steps back to take the entire mural in at once.

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

Months before Wagué first laid his brush to the wall, CCC Art Task Force volunteer Alice McCartor came across a Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grant intended to support projects that invite the community to participate, including underserved communities. With the Art Task Force — an all-volunteer group of community members who procure donations of and curate fine art to beautify CCC buildings — already in the thick of procuring art for Blackburn Center, Alice immediately saw a golden opportunity.

“I thought a mural here could be a good match because RACC makes an effort to bring art to the public in multiple ways,” Alice shared. “I could envision many people walking into the clinic — people who don’t have easy access to galleries or the museum — and being able to see fine art in a mural.”

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

The rest of the Art Task Force agreed and began discussing local artists whose style and experience would be right for such a project. Wagué, whose work and reputation as a writer, illustrator, ceramicist and muralist is eclipsed only by his truest artistic identity as a storyteller, quickly became the group’s first choice.

Growing up in Mali, Africa, the power and magic of stories settled deep into Wagué’s bones as he listened to stories told by his grandmother and village elders. These stories often depicted animals as the characters to represent our human foibles, our strengths and our resiliency.

As an established artist, he developed a storytelling program called “What’s Standing on Your Soul?” that allows participants to exchange ideas based on their own lives. What better person, what better way, to bring to life a mural based on and in CCC’s community of clients who receive support to find stability and wellness, as well as the staff who offer that help?

“I first learned of CCC’s work when an artwork of mine was donated to the organization’s Healing Through Art collection a few years back,” Wagué shared. “I was absolutely humbled when I was approached about this project.” A few months later, RACC notified CCC that they would award the grant for a mural project.

CCC arranged three sessions for Wagué to facilitate his workshop: the first for a group of Old Town Clinic patients, the second for a group of CCC staff members and the last for staff members specifically from CCC’s Eastside Concern program, which would soon be absorbed into Blackburn Center to provide substance use disorder counseling and peer support services.

Over the course of a few hours, Wagué shared about storytelling’s capacity to connect and challenge, recounted stories he’d heard growing up in Mali and set the stage for participants to share stories based in their own experiences.

“It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of that,” shared Zibby, an Old Town Clinic patient. “To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

Though a skilled facilitator, Wagué knew that participants would have to meet him halfway to fully unlock the power of storytelling. “They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish, but I would have never learned any of that without them trusting me. So I’m grateful,” he says. “It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be. That really stuck out to me.”

"It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of [the storytelling sessions]. To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

At each session, Wagué was accompanied by his wife, Ronna Neuenschwander, an accomplished and well-known artist in her own right. She listened alongside Wagué, documenting phrases and narratives the participants shared. After the workshops, Wagué and Ronna reviewed her notes, identifying themes that emerged across the conversations. Then he got to work translating the collective story of CCC staff and clients into imagery steeped in Malian traditions.

“I focused on the positive direction people want to shape their lives toward, such as ‘being well and doing well in life,’ ‘being able to trust again,’ and ‘helping others so they will not experience what I went through.’

“Some things we heard are represented by words, others are represented with images of favorite animals and scenes of nature that have helped them through hard times.”

The resulting design was a sprawling, 30-feet by 10-feet mural, as bold in its entirety as it is delicate in its individual elements. Creatures of all kinds march, fly or catch a ride on others toward a lizard playing music.

“I wanted to include animals that are metaphors for the stories that they shared: in my culture, Elephant represents strength, Turtle represents courage and endurance, Hippo is the symbol of large vision, Birds are symbols of knowledge, Lizard represents welcoming and happiness,” Wagué explains. “All of them are carrying others on their backs, symbolizing diversity and acceptance. The bird’s nest shows nurturing and caring. The baobab tree carried on the back of the tortoise is the sturdy and long-living tree of life.”

Transferring the design on paper to the wall was a month-long endeavor that, like the best of stories, took a few unforeseen turns. Wagué and Ronna worked side by side nearly every day in June. They initially invited one other Portland artist, Kendra Larson, who wanted to learn about mural painting techniques.

“They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish.... It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be.”

As the weeks passed, many others came along to help, delightfully mirroring the caravan of creatures in the mural itself. Ronna recounts, “One of Kendra’s students was interested in helping, so he joined. Construction workers and electricians and CCC’s own tech people would comment on the job daily, explaining our mural to us as it progressed. Then they began asking if they could paint a little spot in the mural. We felt honored that they had taken on ownership of the mural and wanted to leave a visual mark of their hand in the building.”

Blackburn Center staff — in the building to prepare for the start of services— popped by between meetings and tasks, eager to fill in a pattern here, widen a line there. CCC’s Art Task Force volunteers joined in, too. Wagué hadn’t set out for the painting to be a totally communal task, but he and Ronna readily embraced it. “Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

No Blackburn Center staff member would take credit for more than the tiniest contribution, but the opportunity to make a mark colored how they view their own experience at the new program.

“Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

“I painted one tiny orange circle and one tiny blue circle,” says Lydia Bartholow, Blackburn Center’s Associate Director of Behavioral Health. “But painting these circles felt very much to me like my involvement in the overall Blackburn project: there was a larger vision that centered the stories of our clients, and I was lucky enough to get to contribute to something much larger and more beautiful than myself.”

Dalando Vance, a peer case manager for Blackburn Center Apartments, shares, “I felt a great deal of gratitude. Even though the part I painted was super small, I got a feeling of empowerment and togetherness.”

Wagué made his final dabs and strokes on June 28. Since then, scores of staff members, clients and community partners have stopped in their tracks in the second floor lobby, pausing to interpret the images for themselves. Often, what they hear is their own story spoken back.

Alice, the Art Task Force volunteer who first set this project in motion, couldn’t be more pleased. “Wagué's story-telling process, his resulting design and his welcoming of all comers to share in painting the mural is just what we hoped for — a joyous reflection of the healing process at CCC for and by clients and staff.”



CCC Public Policy Mid-year Update

Jul 23, 2019

In December 2018 Central City Concern’s (CCC) Executive Leadership Team and the Board of Directors approved the 2019 CCC Public Policy Agenda, intended to guide our public policy and advocacy engagement efforts. Since then, CCC has sought engagement opportunities for staff, clients, residents and patients that aligned with the agenda. Dozens of staff and nearly 100 current and former clients have participated in advocacy activities across local and regional efforts, Oregon’s 2019 state legislative session and the 116th Congress and federal administration.

During the first six months of the year the state legislative session has dominated our public policy team’s attention; we reviewed and tracked more than 40 bills through the legislative process. Dialogue about any of our policy focus areas often circled back to two main issues: affordable housing and the needs of communities impacted by the criminal justice system. For example, the State of Oregon is currently working on a waiver update to the substance use disorder 1115 Medicaid waiver. When this effort was initially announced in January 2019, housing was not part of the expected changes; seven months later, we expect supportive housing and better engagement with reentry populations for the purpose of improving access to substance use disorder treatment.

Our public policy team, other staff and clients have also participated in a number of legislative activities since the beginning of the year:

City of Portland passed the Fair Access in Renting (FAIR) ordinance

  • Two CCC staff members attended regular meeting for seven months to support the crafting of this legislation
  • CCC’s Flip the Script program staff and participants provided public testimony and a joint letter of support during the council’s review of the legislation

Multnomah County Budget hearings

  • 100 clients and former clients from the Recovery Mentor Program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD® program) and Puentes attended to advocate for substance use disorder treatment, mental health care and housing investments
  • Eight clients and former clients provided direct testimony to county commissioners

State legislative session

  • CCC staff, clients and program alumni took 31 meetings with 14 of the 17 legislators that represent CCC programs/properties and sent in more than 140 emails to senators and representatives
  • CCC’s Health Service Advisory Council, a group of current patients, sent a budget letter seeking more funding for behavioral health and palliative care
  • Staff and clients participated in four lobby days with our community partners at, the Housing Alliance, Partnership for Safety and Justice, Oregon Primary Care Association and Oregon Council for Behavioral Health
  • Staff provided public comment at five committee hearings to advocate for palliative care, supportive employment, opposing criminalization of homelessness, supportive housing and self-sufficiency/wraparound services for families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Significant state budget and policy changes for which CCC advocated include:
     
    • – $334 million in new revenue for Oregon Health Plan
    • – $13 million to increase reimbursement rates for behavioral health
    • – $54.5 million capital and rental subsidy investment for permanent supportive housing
    • – $20 million for TANF recipients to access stable housing, employment and behavioral health services in addition to standard TANF benefits
    • – Substance use disorder was declared a chronic illness to support more health focused responses over criminalization
    • – 1% increase in the Oregon state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income families
  • CCC sent in letters to the federal registry opposing federal administrative changes that will hurt our communities

    • Public Charge: CCC opposes the federal government changing its policy on how low-income immigrant communities can use social services, including access to urgent care clinics and food stamps. While the “public charge” rule has been in place for several decades, the current administration seeks to make it even more penalizing for community members to seek assistance in times of crisis. We believe the current rule is burdensome enough and doesn’t need to increase targeting of low-income communities.
    • Mixed Status in affordable housing: CCC opposes evicting immigrant families from subsidized housing. Current rules prohibit non-citizens (including immigrants in the US with legal status) from using housing benefits. The current rules allow for parents of citizens or spouses of citizens receiving housing benefits to also reside in the same home. The current administration seeks to remove allowances for families to stay together in the same household even if the non-citizen member is not receiving the housing assistance directly.

    CCC advocated for some bills, including SB 179 for Palliative Care and HB 2310 for supported employment, that were not successful this session and we are committed to continuing the work needed to make these services available to those most in need. In the big picture, we saw great movement toward solutions for the communities we serve during this first half of the year.

    There is always more work to be done and more advocacy that will be needed to secure the future we know our communities deserve. For the remainder of the year we will stay focused on our priorities, including the Coordinated Care Organizations (CCO) 2.0 roll out, funding for Community Health Centers in the federal budget ($1.68 billion), ensuring equitable access to housing developed by funds from the Metro Bond, additional improvements to our criminal justice system and the statewide strategic plan for improving access to substance use disorder treatment.

    As we move forward, we aim to involve friends and supporters of CCC even more in our advocacy work! Check in regularly with our newly refreshed Advocacy and Public Policy page to find out what we're working on. You can also sign up below for our periodic advocacy emails to learn about ways to get involved, including attending meetings, contacting elected officials and spreading awareness about the legislative issues that affect those we serve.   

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CCC Partners with The Oregon Clinic to Welcome People Home

Jul 18, 2019

A message from Westbrook Evans, Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Volunteer Manager:

On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, nearly 300 people gathered for the grand opening of CCC’s Blackburn Center, a six-story facility where many residents of East Multnomah County will receive housing, health care and job services. Just the day before, employees from The Oregon Clinic (TOC) stayed late into the evening, volunteering their time to prepare for new residents by making up rooms and writing thoughtful welcome cards placed in each unit. We are so thankful for TOC staff who organized a bedding drive, volunteered their time, and donated extra items to make this project happen.

For many people who move into the Blackburn Center, it might be the first time they have a place to call their own in quite some time. Thanks to the donations and hard work of TOC volunteers, new residents will get more than a plain bed and a clean room. Not only did TOC donate bed linens for all 175 single residence occupancy and studio apartments, they also organized a drive to collect towels, handwrote welcome cards, and provided 155 hours of volunteer time to sort linens and make up the rooms. They brought their friends and family to volunteer and donated other items like hygiene and laundry supplies.

     

As we celebrate Blackburn Center’s grand opening in CCC’s 40th year, I want to recognize our partnership with TOC. In 2016, TOC made a commitment to community service by becoming an Oregon Benefit Company and, in 2018, chose CCC as their partner. TOC recognized that the lack of affordable housing and health services strongly impacts their patients, staff and the Portland community, and chose to team up with CCC to make an impact.

TOC staff have supported us in a variety of ways: they attend our fundraising events, organize donation drives, volunteer their time and even bring their families along! While the official partnership began in 2018, the earliest record I found of TOC donating supplies for our clients was in 1991. It is quite exciting to recognize that for more than half of CCC’s time serving Portland, TOC has been a valued supporter.

     

Just in my short time with CCC, I have seen the massive impact various TOC projects have had, including a pots and pans drive, back to school supplies donations, and most recently, preparing Blackburn Center. I recently had the privilege of getting to know several TOC volunteers and was especially moved by those who stayed late or returned for another day of service, brought extra donations, and asked for other ways to get involved. When I saw TOC CEO Scot Gudger breaking down boxes with his staff, I knew that TOC values a culture of service and giving back, all the way up to their top leadership. I was very honored to work on this project and can’t wait to see what amazing idea they come up with next to serve our clients and our community.

     



CCC Celebrates the Grand Opening of Blackburn Center!

Jul 16, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9, Central City Concern (CCC) welcomed nearly 300 community partners, funders and friends of the organization into our Blackburn Center in East Portland for a grand opening event.

The day marked a celebration of the building's completion, the start of services, the incredible breadth of partners and funders who made this possible, the impact Blackburn Center will make on the lives of thousands of people, and the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the project. Blackburn Center is the final and flagship project of the Housing is Health initiative.

As CCC's President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff reminded the guests, everything about Blackburn Center points back to the people we serve. "This beautiful space is a testament to the dignity and potential each person we serve holds, with an elegant and elevating environment to prove it," she said.

Blackburn Center is located at the corner of E Burnside and 122nd Ave.      CCC President & CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff opened the program.

Julie Smith, an apprentice laborer who worked on the building for Walsh Construction, shared her story, revealing that she had herself received CCC's services to find the path of recovery and stability. Working on the building that would serve thousands of people on similar paths as her own was so meaningful, she said.

Ed Blackburn, CCC's president & CEO emeritus after whom the building is named, reflected on what the services we offer here will mean to those we serve. Pain and hurt would enter through our doors, yes, but healing and hope would be shared back out into the world.

Other speakers included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick, and representatives from funders Portland Housing Bureau, Corporation for Supportive Housing, U.S. Bank, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority and the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.

Representatives from each of the six Housing is Health initiative partners, who came together to provide a trailblazing $21.5 million gift to fund Blackburn Center and two other affordable housing projects, spoke as well: Adventist Health Medical Group, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services - Oregon.

Julie Smith spoke about CCC's recovery and housing services crucial to helping her find stability. She was the event's honorary ribbon cutter.      Ed Blackburn, CCC president & CEO emeritus, was instrumental in bringing the six Housing is Health partners together under a common cause.

The first two floors of Blackburn Center are a community health center that will eventually serve 3,000 people each year with comprehensive and integrated primary care services, mental health and addiction treatment care, employment assistance, housing resources and a pharmacy.

The third floor is the new home of CCC’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP). Since 2005, RCP has offered respite care to 30 people at a time, offering medical care, case management and housing to people discharged from local hospitals with nowhere else to go and heal. With their move to Blackburn Center, RCP can now care for up to 51 people. Mental Health RCP will start in the next month, while 10 beds for people in palliative care will be added in the future.

Blackburn Center also includes 80 units of alcohol- and drug-free transitional housing on the fourth and fifth floors, and 34 permanent homes on the sixth floor. Integrated resident and health support services will help residents stay housed and in recovery.

Ankrom Moisan Architects, Inc. did an award-winning job on the design of the building; Walsh Construction Co. brought it into touchable, walkable, livable reality.

Thanks to all who joined in our journey to open Blackburn Center. And now we get to the real work of helping people find home, healing and hope.

Learn more about Blackburn Center’s services here. View the complete set of photos from the event here.