Recovery and Connection

Sep 29, 2020

A rare afternoon in the office for LEAD case managers Hubert Mathews, Jr. (left) and Brennan Edwards (right). The LEAD team spends most of its time out in the field, connecting with clients wherever they are.

As National Recovery Month comes to a close, we want to shine a light on a team that uses the power of recovery and supportive connections to transform lives. CCC’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) teams work to help low-level drug offenders move toward recovery, find stability and avoid reoffending.

For people experiencing homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system is often unavoidable. Offenses like trespassing, sleeping at a bus stop and “aggressive littering” – when belongings are spread out in a public space – lead to unpayable fines, arrest and incarceration. Homeless individuals who are also navigating substance use disorders are often arrested for low-level drug crimes and can get sucked deeper and deeper into the criminal justice system.

CCC’s LEAD teams work at the nexus of substance use, homelessness and criminality to disrupt that pattern. “We’re thinking differently about addiction, and recategorizing it as a mental health and social justice issue – not a criminal justice issue,” said Erica Thygesen, LEAD Program Manager.

The Multnomah County LEAD program has supported more than 300 clients in transforming their lives since the program opened in 2017. Pictured from left: Case Managers Brennan Edwards, Hubert Mathews, Jr. and Carlos Reynoso. Not pictured: Case Managers Michelle Courtney and Kayla Humphrey, Screening & Outreach Coordinator Jason Sheffey.

In Multnomah and Clackamas counties, law enforcement officers are getting that message. Since the program began in 2017, officers have diverted nearly 500 individuals toward intensive case management by the LEAD team. Case managers prioritize harm reduction, helping their clients take incremental steps toward recovery and stability. Safer use usually begins with access to Naloxone (for reversing opioid overdose), needle exchanges and safer places to sleep. As they're ready, clients can also access health care, transitional housing, employment services, and recovery support at CCC.

Critically, clients also build positive and healthy relationships with team members. “It takes a long time for change to happen, but the more relationships they can build, the more successful they are in the long term,” said Thygesen.

“Everyone’s recovery is different, but it comes down to human connection,” said Glen Suchanek of the Clackamas County LEAD team. Pictured from left: Case Managers Charlesetta Dobson, Wendie Taber and Joslyn Gheen; Glen Suchanek, Screening & Outreach Coordinator; and Erica Thygesen, LEAD Program Manager.

It’s not an easy journey, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased feelings of alienation, hopelessness and despair for many in our community. Many LEAD clients are vulnerable to recurrence of use, which could lead back to the cycle of arrests. But the LEAD team has flexibility to stay engaged for the long term. “People don’t fail in our programs,” said Thygesen. “They can take as long as they need to get where they’re going, even if the path is crooked.”

LEAD team members emphasize that recovery looks different for everyone – some folks are ready to move toward sobriety, while others are just celebrating making it to a court date. Regardless, the team is there to provide support. “We’re changing the trajectory of their lives,” Thygesen said.

Hansen Clinic Expands to the Banfield Shelter Motel

Sep 22, 2020

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The Hansen Clinic is one of CCC’s shelter-based programs that serves chronically ill homeless individuals, helping them to manage their health and avoid emergency room visits while they seek to stabilize their lives. This month, the Hansen Clinic is expanding from serving around 15 medically-vulnerable shelter residents to nearly 60 at the new Banfield Shelter Motel – one of three new motel-based shelters opened by Multnomah County in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For a person experiencing homelessness, managing a serious chronic illness like congestive heart failure, COPD or diabetes can be a nearly insurmountable challenge requiring frequent hospitalizations. Once stable, they’re discharged with no home to recover in, and the cycle of illness begins again: increasing costs, worsening disease, and sadly often, early death.

The Hansen Clinic team composed of physician assistant Pat Buckley, PA-C, and Treva Drake, BSN, RN, interrupts that cycle by helping homeless folks successfully manage their chronic conditions, outside the hospital.

“We call it ‘supportive primary care,’” said Buckley. “We're nurturing people into a place of stability. We see fewer patients per shift, and if I need to spend 45 minutes with a patient, I can.”

Lead care provider Pat Buckley prepares to greet the next medically-vulnerable patient at the new Hansen Clinic location, in the Banfield Shelter Motel.

Buckley is full of stories about patients whose lives have been transformed, and the burden of chronic disease lifted, simply through steady care from the Hansen Clinic.

One patient was cycling in and out of the hospital frequently for issues with COPD, heart failure, diabetes and pneumonia. He got connected to a medically-vulnerable shelter program, and then to the Hansen Clinic. Buckley met with him twice weekly and he worked with a nurse almost daily, learning to manage his diabetes and his breathing. Because he was in a shelter that didn’t require him to leave each day, he had regular access to his belongings, could manage his medications and take a rest when he needed to. And while he was learning to manage his health, he was also accessing other services that ultimately led to permanent housing. Now, that patient has a home and the tools he needs to manage his health – with only one hospital visit in the last year.

“Of all the things I’ve done at CCC, this is by far the most rewarding and making the greatest difference for our community,” said Buckley. “[Keeping people out of the hospital] saves money for the community as a whole – it's very impactful in that way. But it’s also life-altering for the people in the program.”

When nurse Treva Drake arrives to work at the Hansen Clinic, it often feels like she’s making a home visit. That’s because the clinic is located right where the patients live, if temporarily. “It feels like I’m a co-housemate, coming into their space, and they greet me with friendliness and warmth,” Drake said.

Pat Buckley, PA-C, ND, WCC (at right) and Treva Drake, BSN, RN (at left), are a tight-knit team supporting chronically ill homeless individuals in better managing their conditions so they can stay healthier and avoid hospitalization.

Every day is different. On a recent morning, she was working with a patient whose lung cancer made her vulnerable to COVID-19. At other times, Drake might triage a patient with an abscess or difficulty breathing, check on a patient after a medication change, or provide individualized education about staying healthy — and because the clinic is onsite, patients can easily knock on the door to ask questions as they arise.

“I tell patients, 'I’m here, and I’m going to be here tomorrow too,’” said Drake.

Protecting the health of vulnerable Portlanders is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those at the Banfield Shelter Motel are all at disproportionately high risk of COVID-19 infection and complications – they’re homeless individuals over the age of 60, with underlying medical conditions, and many are people of color. The Banfield’s private rooms allow for physical distancing that isn’t possible in a congregate shelter setting, and enable residents to safely quarantine if necessary. Case managers from Transition Projects (TPI), a longtime CCC partner, coordinate services for residents, while the Hansen Clinic team ensures they stay as healthy as possible.

“Our ultimate goal is to stabilize their health and help them transition into housing,” Buckley said.

Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month

Sep 18, 2020

In 2019, the Nahua group Huehca Omeyocan taught CCC staff about their culture through music and dance.

It’s Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month at Central City Concern, a time to celebrate our Latinx clients and staff and appreciate the depth of history of this community. This national observance started in 1968 with an annual proclamation of National Hispanic Heritage week. 20 years later, it was expanded to a month-long celebration. Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15 and ends October 15. The timing is key because the Independence days of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Mexico fall between these dates. This year, the national theme of Latinx Heritage Month is “The Power of Our Vote.”

Celebrations have been canceled due to COVID-19, but we still would like to acknowledge this time and the importance of this year's Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month. This celebration comes during a presidential election where Latinx people will make up the largest racial and ethnic minority voting bloc. Pew Research states that Latinx people represent over 13% of eligible voters. While we know the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted our local Latinx community, we also know there are additional issues this community faces.

September is also National Recovery Month, so we'd also like to shine a light on our Puentes program that serves Spanish-speaking populations in the Portland metro area. Since 2005, Puentes has welcomed Spanish-speakers into a culturally responsive community where things like language, country of origin and documentation status are not barriers to a life in recovery. Puentes is one of the few programs of its kind in the Portland area and a pillar within the Latinx recovery community.

In the spirit of celebrating Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month while also educating ourselves, we’d like to share a list of eight must-see documentaries that PBS and OPB have put together to help gain a better understanding of Latinx culture in the United States. These films take a deep dive into the many ways Latinx communities have influenced American culture, politics and economics. We encourage you to take your time and engage with the rich histories of our Latinx communities through these documentaries.