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.

• • •

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.



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.

     

     



Drawn Back Home: Black History Month 2019

Feb 20, 2019

By the mid-2000s, the King neighborhood of northeast Portland was in the thick of transitioning from a majority non-white and historically Black area to a majority white one. For then-12-year-old Jennifer, even the shifting color of the King neighborhood was still a radical, welcoming, life-changing difference from how she’d grown up.

“I mostly grew up in suburban areas. I felt a disconnect most of the time because my siblings and I were always the very few black kids in our schools,” Jennifer says. “My family moved to Portland in 2004, and from what we were told, we arrived sort of right at the start of gentrification in that neighborhood.”

For decades of Portland history, neighborhoods like King had been a bastion of the local Black Portland community, an arrangement not of happenstance but directly due to institutionalized redlining and discriminatory housing policies. Still, Black Portlanders created community where they could, fostering vibrant neighborhoods and civic life. But starting in the 1950s, the city’s myriad urban renewal projects in its north and northeast quadrants systematically dismantled and destabilized Black communities.

“My family moved to Portland in 2004, and from what we were told, we arrived sort of right at the start of gentrification in that neighborhood.”

Decades downstream in the early 2000s, north and northeast Portland became ground zero for gentrification, attracting people and investors from elsewhere with higher incomes, resources and political heft than the average Black resident. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 10,000 Portlanders of color, mostly Black, moved out of the Portland’s central neighborhoods, including communities like King. Though some moved on their own accord, most were pushed by skyrocketing rents and property prices toward East Portland, where housing costs were relatively more affordable.

Jennifer would often follow her friend two blocks out of the way off NE Killingworth, a main thoroughfare in King, to walk past a particular house. Her friend would explain, in almost hushed tones, that it had been her grandmother’s family home. Had. Yet her friend was drawn back to the property, over and over again, with Jennifer in tow.

Her friend never spelled out the circumstances of why the home didn’t belong to her family anymore, but the massive displacement King residents had been witnessing—at least those still there to witness it—provided plenty to read between the lines.

Still, the historic residents of King were resilient, preserving their community bonds even as neighbors steadily moved out. “Compared to where I was used to living, I felt like I could still connect with our culture more, be around more Black people than I’d ever seen. I came to know the neighborhood and it felt really good to be around people like me. I felt so normal there. I didn’t stand out. I mean, it felt like home.”

"Compared to where I was used to living, I felt like I could still connect with our culture more, be around more Black people than I’d ever seen. I came to know the neighborhood and it felt really good to be around people like me. I felt so normal there.... it felt like home.”

That sense of home eventually faded as the winds of gentrification caught Jennifer’s family. They moved several times before Jennifer and her siblings went off to college, closer to the city’s outer limits with each subsequent move.

Jennifer first went to college at Western Oregon University. There, she gave birth to her daughter, Cambria, and soon transferred to Portland State University. As she approached graduation, she started looking for housing in the city and quickly realized that rents were out of her reach. She and her two sisters eventually found a home in East County.

“But I really wanted to find a way to get back to northeast or north Portland because I was so familiar with it. I was so familiar with my old neighborhood and I love the layout and things are so convenient.”

After a few years in Gresham, Jennifer heard about the Portland Housing Bureau’s N/NE Preference Policy, a “tool to begin addressing the harmful impacts of this legacy [of marginalization and displacement] by prioritizing families and individuals with generational ties to N/NE Portland for new affordable housing opportunities in the area.”

Months after submitting her application, Jennifer received a phone call that offered her a two-bedroom apartment in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Charlotte B. Rutherford Place. “It was such a relief,” Jennifer recalls. “I was in a little shock. I was grateful. It meant so much that I’d be back so close to my old neighborhood and be able to live on my own—to afford to live on my own—with my daughter.”

She pauses. “It was emotional because I realized that I didn’t just want this for myself; I wanted it for my daughter, too. I wanted her to see Black people, to be able to go to schools that were more mixed, where she saw people like her. Being back in the neighborhood would affect all that.”

Today, Jennifer and Cambria make their home in a third-story apartment at Charlotte B. Rutherford Place, located in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood, just slightly more than a mile west of King. Opened in December 2019, the affordable housing community project figured intentionally into CCC’s targeted efforts to meet the housing and health needs of African Americans.

Opened in December 2019, the affordable housing community project figured intentionally into CCC’s targeted efforts to meet the housing and health needs of African Americans.

At the grand opening, CCC President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff said, “We’re so proud that Charlotte B. Rutherford Place opened under the N/NE preference policy, opening up housing access to people with historical ties to neighborhoods that were once predominantly black, but targeted with an urban renewal plan that didn’t include those who had created their community here.”

Though there to celebrate, Dr. Solotaroff spoke to the modesty of the effort relative to systemic injustices. “Of course Charlotte B. Rutherford Place, nor the housing preference policy, are magic wands that we can wave to undo racial and generational traumas and injustices, but they are steps in the right direction,” she continued.

The Hon. Charlotte B. Rutherford added: “I am even more heartened to see the City recognize its callous treatment of the Black community in the past and attempt to make amends by providing preferences to come back for those families who have been displaced over the years.”

Projects like Charlotte B. Rutherford Place are just the start of righting past wrongs, and no one, including Jennifer, is under the belief that these policies and projects will revert northeast and north Portland to what it once was.

“I’m always reminded that this is not the exact neighborhood I grew up in. It’s always in the back of my mind. I know that,” Jennifer says. “But still, I hold so many sentiments with different parts of this area. To me, it doesn’t matter who’s there now. I still have memories of those places.”

Now living in a neighborhood that’s simultaneously familiar and foreign, Jennifer feels invigorated by fellow Black Portlanders wrestling with the same tension.

Now living in a neighborhood that’s simultaneously familiar and foreign, Jennifer feels invigorated by fellow Black Portlanders wrestling with the same tension. There’s a renewed effort, she feels, between Black Portlanders making their way back to historic neighborhoods and those who were able to remain there in the face of urban renewal projects and gentrification. She feels that there’s a buzz to regrow and reestablish a community, to connect the past to the future.

“Until I moved to Portland, my understanding of what it meant to be Black really came from TV and what I was taught in school because I did not have a community I belonged to outside of my immediate family. I’m excited that my daughter can grow up in a community with people who look like her and where she feels represented, and I’m also excited to work with people to process what’s happened in Portland and what we want it to become.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May 2018 Edition

May 29, 2018

For this month’s volunteer spotlight we sat down with Danielle Wheeler, a volunteer with the Recuperative Care Program (RCP), to talk about her work.

RCP provides immediate housing, intensive case management and access to primary care at our Old Town Clinic. Once clients are stable, they can focus on rebuilding their lives. Central City Concern specialists can help them get supportive housing, training, employment and the resources they need to recover and to become self-sufficient.

Jordan Wilhelms, RCP's program manager, had this to say about the role Danielle, our spotlighted volunteer, plays:

“Danielle has been an amazing volunteer for RCP. She has embodied the RCP spirit of service, has tirelessly and consistently worked to improve our systems, relieve our staff from burden where possible, and brought her organizational and housing expertise to RCP’s capacity to provide skilled interventions for our participants!”

Annie Demotta, RCP's housing specialist added, “Danielle is someone with an incredible skill set, with high standards, who also leads with her heart. On behalf of myself, the RCP team and the people we serve, we are so lucky to have her here!”

Read on to hear how Danielle got connected with CCC, why the team keeps her coming back to volunteer, and why housing is such a crucial part of recuperative care.

• • •

PeterAs CCC's Recuperative Care Program housing specialist volunteer, Danielle has become a key member of the team and a compassionate ear for clients.: What is your name and volunteer position?

Danielle: My name is Danielle Wheeler and my volunteer position is housing specialist.

P: How did you get hooked up with RCP and CCC?

D: This is a really cool story actually. So three years ago I left my career job to stay home with my kids and I wanted to spend a little more time volunteering while my kids were in school. For many years I’d been involved through my church in a monthly serving of meals at Bud Clark Commons through Transition Projects (TPI), so I called them up and they threw me into a role to teach how subsidized housing works.

P: Do you have a background in subsidized housing?

D: I don’t. I have an MBA and my background is in marketing. A case manager who was doing those classes trained me and then he went back into his case management role, so I continued on [teaching the classes]. It was really great and it gave me the hands-on work that I really wanted to do.

So I did that for a couple years, and one day I met a woman who was struggling with her housing plan and understanding the housing market and I finally referred her to her case manager and she said, “Well, I don’t have a case manager here, I’m at RCP” and I said, “What’s RCP?”

I was introduced to [RCP staffer] Annie Demotta and through that, because this woman was just not understanding who was who and where everybody came together, learned about the RCP program and I was hooked. Annie invited me in to take a look around and see if I wanted to get involved, so I slowly started balancing that into my workload.

"So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances... that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet."
-Danielle, CCC Volunteer

P: What did you find so interesting about RCP?

D: I have a real passion for working with the most vulnerable, and RCP has a very high percentage of those who need a lot more supportive care across the board, not just in housing. So housing is where I spend most of my time, but housing is just one piece of people being able to achieve whatever goals they have for themselves.

I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft, I’ve worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well and with a lot of diversity on the team as well. There’s a lot of respect here and I think the vast majority of clients that come through RCP really feel this is their journey and that we are not dictating to them. We are here to support them, hear their goals, and then provide them pathways to that and then encourage them along the way. I really hear that come out in the clients.

And yet these are some of the most vulnerable people. They have not only had some hard luck along the way, not had family support, whatever it might be that has lead them to the situation; now they have medical conditions on top of that and so for me it just really grabs my heart to be able to be a part of a team that is there to support them in moving along their path.

P: And what specifically are you doing with the program? Has it changed since volunteering at TPI?

D: It’s broadened. At TPI I was more focused on subsidized housing, but housing can often be much more than that. To address somebody’s subsidized housing plan, you really have to understand who they are, what their overall goals are, and it’s usually a multi-step process. It’s rare that somebody can just go out and get a job and get an apartment. It does happen, but sometimes there needs to be some other pieces along the way.

So what I like about my role here is it’s all-encompassing. It’s “sit down, hear where they want to go with housing, and then start to fill in the pieces;” sometimes that’s subsidized housing, sometimes it’s not. Through Annie and through the team, I’ve learned about and continued to learn about so many different housing options that exist out there.

P: And what are the main challenges in that work of trying to help secure housing for people?

D: I think, simply put, it’s that there aren’t enough options for people. I think that there are a lot of great programs out there and I think that there’s a lot of energy trying to coordinate across those programs. However, they are still disparate and understanding what is what, I think of it as a big puzzle. Each person gets to define what pieces they want to put in that puzzle and there is no guidebook for that.

"I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft,  I've worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well..."

P: And the fact that you’re dealing with people who may have been chronically homeless over decades and dealing with complex medical issues, I’d imagine the process can be really overwhelming for folks.

D: Yeah, it really depends. There are some who are ready, whether that’s due to a new illness that has complicated something, a recent arrest that has been the final straw for them, some people come really ready to change things. But for most, it is a challenge to build trust, and not with the staff here, I see that happen more quickly than I’ve seen with any other program, but rather trust in the process and that “the system” won’t let them down. It’s not uncommon that until somebody has the keys in their hand they don’t really believe it’s going to happen. So sometime we get lack of engagement because of that, which is heartbreaking.

It’s hard to get to the core of why they don’t trust. And it might just be that they are not ready for that, it’s not their time yet. And that’s okay too. One of the great things about RCP is that the staff here are very respectful of [that]. It’s not about us imposing on them, for example, that they must be housed. If somebody is not comfortable with that, for whatever reason, we can offer them support in maybe exploring that, but if that’s not what they want that’s okay too. It’s client-led here and I think that’s a big difference.

P: And despite the fact that being housed is a part of the RCP program, it’s technically a health services program. Why do we have a housing department in a health services program?

D: So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances (or whatever has been going on in their housing background that is not stable) that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet. So, many people recognize that and recognize that housing is a part of their care plan, medically speaking.

P: So it’s giving that baseline to be able to build on the rest of that plan?

D: It’s a piece of the plan. RCP has a very holistic view. People come in here for medical reasons, but then we’re humanizing their experience and we’re saying you know we’re not just here to get you to your doctor’s appointment. We’re here to listen to you and hear what your goals are when you leave and see if we can’t support and connect you during your time here to helping you on your pathway to those goals. And more often than not, housing is a piece of that: “If I only had my own space and quiet I could heal better” or “I could sleep better and then I could go back to work.” So housing becomes a core piece for most people.

P: Have there been any standout experiences during your time here?

D: There have definitely been some clients who came through here that’ve touched my heart and have gotten housed and been so grateful and there have been some beautiful moments that way. But I think the moment that touched me the most was actually an internal one with the team.

There had been an incident in the building that had potentially put some of our staff in harm’s way. What really touched me was that this team’s management intentionally took the time to sit the team down, debrief, and make sure that people felt heard. Emotions were encouraged and shared. I had mentioned this was a high-functioning team, but in that moment I saw why. The management of this team was incredible in the way that they allowed that to unfold and the team to come together, and that translates into better services for our clients. Not just because of the skill set (should there be another potentially dangerous situation), but just for being more present and aware as a team for every client that comes through here.

P: And, our traditional last question, what would you say to someone who was curious about volunteering with CCC but was on the fence?

D: I do get asked a lot by people who are interested. Homelessness is such a big topic in Portland and so lots of people ask me how they can get involved. Having seen only a slice of CCC, but hearing about how the medical services, for example, fit in, or the bigger housing pieces fit in, I am so impressed with CCC’s offerings across different ways to serve somebody. CCC’s big enough where anybody who wants to get involved in homelessness, whatever that means to them and wherever their passions are, can figure out [a role] where they are comfortable and still contribute to the organization.



Celebrating Black History Month: Flip the Script

Feb 28, 2018

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern! As the month comes to a close, we’re grateful for the opportunity for our community to learn about, learn from, and celebrate the countless Black heroes and heroines who paved the way for African Americans to live a life of freedom, opportunity and fully realized potential.

As an organization, CCC strives to embody this work that came before us, notably through our programs ensuring our African Americans clients have access to services that recognize and address historic inequities and systemic barriers, while also meeting individualized needs.

Programs like Flip the Script (FTS), a reentry program started in February 2017 that provides individuals exiting incarceration with dedicated housing, employment services, peer support, and opportunities for reentry system advocacy. The program helps people avoid reoffending and eases their path to reintegrating into society as productive community members.

Patrick spent 15 years in prison. After he had served his time, he knew that he'd need support to reintegrate back into society.FTS found its origins in a data collaboration between Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Community Justice, CCC, and a tireless CCC volunteer. The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

Patrick A. was on the cusp of becoming a free man after having spent more than a third of his life—15 years—in prison. When he was released, Patrick immediately came up against barriers to reintegration. Background check issues and employment gaps made it difficult for him to find a job; his lack of rental history made it nearly impossible to find housing. With his criminal history, few people outside his family wanted to reconnect; the ones who did were those still in the game, ready to draw him back in. Without ready paths to housing, employment and new positive relationships, Patrick could have easily been on the wrong side of these recidivism statistics.

The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

But Patrick was intent on choosing a new path. He was resolute on putting his head down and forging ahead, even if that meant feeling isolated. “To me, going back to jail wasn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life was done. I had a game plan in my head.”

He still needed support to get where he wanted to go.

The Multnomah County's Assessment & Referral Center eventually sent Patrick to CCC’s Parole Transition Program (PTP), which included housing at the Shoreline building. At his lease signing, he met a PTP staff member who told him about FTS, which would make him eligible for the CCC Employment Access Center’s (EAC) intensive one-on-one employment services, peer support and other opportunities. Patrick enrolled.

One of the first things a new enrollee like Patrick does is connect with an FTS Employment Specialist, who helps create a customized plan to help each person work toward their employment goals and develops other opportunities to enhance the client’s vocational skills in order to become a competitive job seeker. More determined than ever and invigorated by having a safe place to call home—“I’ve got my own space, so now I can figure out what to do with myself and my next step,” he recalls thinking—Patrick actually secured a job on his own within two days of moving into CCC housing, before he even met with his employment specialist, Elissa.

Patrick’s next goal was to make his way into the local carpenters' union, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he connected with Elissa, in whom he found the type of support he hadn’t felt in a long time. Elissa was able to assist Patrick with FTS resources that helped him pay for his driver’s license fees and work clothes while he continued to make connections at the union.

"That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. "

“I felt supported. That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. They treated me as a person, not just somebody who got out of jail.”

Three months after moving into CCC’s transitional reentry housing, Patrick applied for and received permanent housing, making him part of the 58 percent of FTS clients who exit into permanent housing. (Another 21 percent of FTS clients find another transitional housing opportunity.)

Patrick catches up with Billy A., the FTS advocacy coordinator (left) and Elissa, his employment specialist (right), at CCC's downtown Employment Access Center.

Soon after, Patrick was accepted into Carpenters Local 1503, opening the door for him to make an honest living with good wages. Since FTS started, 45 percent of FTS clients have used the program as a springboard to permanent housing and a source of income. (An additional 9 percent of clients moved into further transitional housing with an income source.)

Recognizing his need for a new network of positive peers, Patrick also connected with the FTS Advocacy Coordinator, Billy, who introduced him to the FTS Advocacy Work Team. Ask any of the dozen FTS clients who participate in this culturally specific group of African Americans and they’ll all agree: there’s something special happening here. When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

Together, they’ve created a survey to help identify areas for improvement and change in both the FTS program and larger landscape of reentry systems and policy. Though they may face barriers to employment and housing based on racial bias or discrimination in the justice system, they see that they’re not alone and feel empowered by the change they can take together. They are actively part of the work to disrupt the system that sets up a disproportionate number of African Americans to experience recidivism.

When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

“[The work group] gives me a chance to help other people and share my understanding as someone coming with firsthand reentry. It’s nice to be around other people going through the same thing you’re going through. And it’s nice that the others have the same understanding. Sometimes you don’t feel like explaining everything and they already understand what you mean,” Patrick says. “It also feels good to be around people who just want to meet you and know you and are just glad you’re doing well."

Initially shy and slow to trust, Patrick is no longer nervous or quiet. Instead, Patrick is confident and outspoken, especially in advocacy matters. He’s an active member of the group, finding a sense of community he’d been missing for so long. He has also reconnected with his family and is working to build relationships again.

“Going back to jail isn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life is done. I feel I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I’ve got a lot left to accomplish. I feel positive and optimistic about my future. I’m eager to see what I’ve got in store.”

• • •

Deep gratitude to Meyer Memorial Trust, A Home for Everyone, Multnomah County, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Deputy Truls Neal and Wells Fargo for their support and belief in this program dedicated to eliminating the disparities that exist within our criminal justice system.



"It’s overwhelming at times, in a good way"

Jan 16, 2018

Working at Central City Coffee after nearly two-and-a-half years of recovery, Christina S. learned new skills, trained others, supported her family and built a new life. “I know myself and I love myself for the first time ever in my life, really, that I can ever remember. And it seems that things get better and better and better.”

On Mondays, she and a crew of four others prepared bags of coffee in Old Town Portland. Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays, too, were for production, with delivery throughout the Portland metro area the rest of the week. “It’s been amazing to learn all kinds of different things completely out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But also really nerve-wracking and overwhelming at first.” Training other people felt especially great: “My self-confidence, everything has been boosted, I feel just better about myself.”

Christina built up that self-confidence in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps and outpatient treatment, which she says taught her “you need to complete things, that if you sign up for something to see it out and finish it.” The same quiet confidence comes through when she speaks about parenting her five children and one grandchild now that she’s in recovery. When asked if she feels she’s a resource and support for other people, she laughs: “Yeah, which is weird.”

Although she grew up with addiction in her family, she says “nobody talked about it,” even after her father died of an overdose. As her own addiction progressed, it took away her career, her housing, and her children. “That’s when I knew I had a problem,” she says, “when I walked away from my kids.” Talking about those years is not easy for her, but she insists it’s vital to not hide addiction or keep it a secret. “We need to talk about it to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different.”

"We need to talk about [addiction] to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different."
-Christina

Breaking these family patterns has been the common thread to the challenges she’s faced in recovery, which she names without hesitation: “Talking to other people. Opening up. Adjusting to my kids. Adjusting to myself.” She feels she learned the tools she needed in CCC’s outpatient treatment, while CCC’s supportive housing gave her the necessary time and space. Remembering her early recovery, she smiles and says people told her “that once I started talking, I’d get really red-faced, and I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. But then slowly but surely my voice was there. I finally had a voice.” Coming off the streets, she first found shelter in CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. From there, she moved into transitional recovery housing and then into drug-and-alcohol-free housing for families with children. That housing was crucial, she says, for her to slowly rebuild trust with her children and bring her family back together. “I feel safe there and I know that I have people I can always count on and always go to.”

Christina’s cheerful, matter-of-fact style gives way to powerful feelings when she talks about her life in recovery. “It’s emotional,” she says, “because I feel so strongly about what’s happened, and I’m so grateful and blessed that all these things have happened. And for who I am now. I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me. And it’s overwhelming at times, in a good way.”

"I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me."

Toward the end of her Central City Coffee training period, Christina joined the HealthCareers Northwest WorkSource program through CCC’s Employment Access Center. HealthCareers Northwest is a funding program that enabled Christina to return to school and earned her Certified Nursing Assistant 2 certificate. In January 2018, she quickly got a job at a local long-term acute care hospital, and is now thrilled to be working in an exciting field with plenty of career potential. “I really think I’d like to be a nurse someday,” Christina said. “I think I can do it.”



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

Dec 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Adding it up for the better

Dec 19, 2017

My name is Robert. On April 17, 2007, I gave up drugs, alcohol, and hopelessness. I began to take control of my life. The process hasn’t been easy, and there has been failure along the way, but one of the biggest lessons I learned while working with Central City Concern, is that you must keep moving forward. Central City Concern helped me discover the curiosity of a boy again, and that’s how I uncovered my true calling—I am a teacher.

As a child, I was in the foster care system, bouncing from Portland to Colorado to California to Kansas City and back. I was in and out of my mother’s house, my grandmother’s house, and a lot of unsafe places along the way. Every time I thought I could settle in, I was uprooted again. No foundation. No consistency. No stability. I was never in one place long enough to call it home.

During my teenage years I finally landed back at my mother’s house permanently. She fed me. She clothed me. She told me to go to school. But there was no nurturing. There was no encouragement or positive modeling behavior. Mom was tormented by her own issues, and I was on my own.

While at school, I detached. I struggled in and out of the classroom, unable to find anywhere to fit in. I began to use drugs and my habit quickly escalated into addiction. Drugs were an addition to the facade I’d been presenting for years. I was always trying to be someone else . . . someone who I thought was more interesting and entertaining. I became a people pleaser. I became the guy who made everyone else feel at ease. But I could never feel at ease, myself. Addiction and homelessness ruled my life for the next 20 years.

The only constant over that time was my grandmother. She was always there for me no matter what. For a period, when I was deep in my addiction, I was staying at her house. She was patient, but constantly reminded me: “Boy, you know you’re better.” Those words haunted me, and ultimately motivated me to seek help from Central City Concern. Her belief in me continues to be an inspiration to this day.

My transformation started in 2007, when Central City Concern set me up in one of their downtown apartments. I’d been sleeping behind dumpsters and couch-surfing until I was handed those keys.

”I uncovered my true calling – I am a teacher.”

Housing was the pivotal piece to me staying clean and sober. Just knowing that I would be able to go into my own apartment and lock the door behind me made all the difference.

I felt safe. I finally had a place to call home. I started to trust people, and with the help of many, I gained confidence in myself. I was able to engage in recovery meetings in my building, and was supported by on-site treatment counselors. I stayed in CCC housing for just over three years, which gave me the time and space to improve my life.

Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center (EAC) offered the support I needed to pursue an education, and a career. I worked one-on-one with an employment specialist. There were job readiness classes, mock interviews, and I learned about the importance of first impressions and being professional. The EAC staff gave me clothes for job interviews and everybody there played an important role in my success.

My employment specialist helped me get a job working in construction, but I was laid off during the recession in 2009. I kept moving forward though, and at the urging of my employment specialist, I enrolled in Portland Community College (PCC). While in school, an instructor encouraged me to push myself in the field of mathematics. I took his advice, and a few years later, graduated near the top of my class.

Today I work as a math tutor at Portland Community College. Being in that role has helped me learn how to be of service to others—how to work with people to find different ways to solve problems.

”I have a purpose... a passion... perspective.”

Along with tutoring at PCC, I’m doing a practicum at a Portland middle school. My goal is to be a full-time middle school math teacher—that’s where I can make the biggest difference. Middle school was when I stopped understanding math, and lost interest in school. Those kids remind me a lot of myself when I was that age. They’re trying to fit in, and at the same time they’re trying to blend into the background. I see a lot of masks. Math is a barrier for many kids and I want to help them get through that. I want to help them shed the masks early in life, and move forward to fulfill their potential.

I will graduate from Portland State University next year, and then pursue my Master’s in education. I have a love for serving others by teaching them how to be comfortable with numbers. Eleven years ago, Central City Concern gave me stability, and the opportunity to identify that love.

I’ve grown. I’m outgoing. I care about others, and I don’t hide the real me anymore. My grandmother was right, and Central City Concern helped me to see that. I will forever be grateful.