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.

     

     



CCC Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2019

Apr 10, 2019

Dear CCC supporters,

Happy National Volunteer Week! My name is Westbrook Evans and I am the new Volunteer Manager at Central City Concern (CCC). I have been working at CCC for two years now and am thrilled to take on a position where I get to work more closely with the amazing volunteers who support our mission in so many different ways.

National Volunteer Week is an initiative by Points of Light, an international nonprofit dedicated to engaging people in solving social problems through voluntary service. Each year nonprofits across the world come together around a theme to recognize the volunteers that make our organizations run and enrich our community. This year the theme is “Celebrate Acts of Service.”

Service, to me, has always been transformative, not only in the community where the work is done, but for the volunteer. Acts of service by our volunteers don’t begin and end with a single shift because our volunteers become advocates for the people we serve and our work 24/7. We highly value our volunteers not only for their work, but also for the message they bring back to our community about the importance of engagement. This week I would like to celebrate the acts of service our volunteers do every day for the people we serve!

Throughout the year we will continue to highlight individual volunteers and the work they do here at CCC. But for this Volunteer Week, we will celebrate our volunteer community as a whole. Please check out this article from Points of Light about service and if you know anyone who volunteers, help us celebrate them for their acts of service.

I look forward to getting to know all our volunteers!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2019 Edition

Jan 31, 2019

For the first spotlight of 2019, we’re featuring one of Central City Concern's On-Call Administrative volunteers, Christopher Schiel. The on-call volunteer position is one that allows folks who don’t have consistent time available throughout the week the chance to volunteer on an as-needed basis and support various departments throughout CCC.

Christopher has been one of CCC’s most motivated on-call volunteers and has taken on a broad range of tasks throughout the agency. His consistency, reliability, and unflappably positive attitude have been appreciated by many CCC staff. Read on to hear what Christopher has appreciated and learned and how administrative work has enriched his broader understanding of CCC.

• • •

Christopher helped serve a Thanksgiving meal to residents of CCC's Estate Hotel community in November 2018.Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Christopher: My name is Christopher Schiel and I am an on-call administrative volunteer.

P: How long have you been with CCC?

C: I believe it’s been about a year.

P: How did you become familiar with CCC?

C: I knew about the agency from seeing the vehicles around town, but also being aware that there were residential buildings downtown. And I had a superficial awareness of the organization, but not an understanding of what they did besides housing.

P: How did you find out about the volunteer position here?

C: I was actively seeking some volunteer position within the city and I was feeling like housing was at the front of minds, so CCC was at the top of the list. And I found [a position that] I thought was perfect for my skill set, which was project management and organizational stuff.

P: What about admin work was more attractive to you than a role that involved more direct contact with clients?

C: At the time, I was feeling a motivation to do something without really knowing where to start. The housing crisis is something that is very visible on the streets, but there isn’t much of a conversation about why that is beyond reactions on the news, Nextdoor, or from NIMBY folks who are corralling people around the city from one place to another.

My motivation for volunteering was the kind of acknowledgement that I knew that I didn’t know what was going on, really, so I wanted to get involved in some way, not only to volunteer my skills, but to greater understand or explore what is actually happening and admin seemed like the perfect way to do that.

"I’m understanding that the success of the whole mission revolves around a coordination of these services that isn’t obvious on the ground and certainly wasn’t obvious to me before I started"

P: And do you feel that you have learned more about housing and services within housing during your volunteering?

C: Oh, absolutely, yes. My very first task was to interview one of the heads of OHSU and the CEO of a job transition placement group to get their thoughts on the functioning of CCC, as well as their input on [CCC’s] strategic plan. That particular conversation turned out to be very enlightening about the way that this organization collaborates with other ancillary nonprofits throughout Portland. It started to get me thinking about how each of these missions can be compartmentalized and taken by collaborators to a certain degree of good.

Right after that I was doing survey entry for [satisfaction] surveys that were given to clients in various parts of CCC and just doing data entry, but to observe that feedback loop, to see how clients are coming thought the system, going from Old Town Recovery Center to different residential buildings, hearing what is going right what is going wrong, how all these things are cooperating to make not only this organization better but what the greater mission of tackling houselessness and the housing crisis is has been insightful.

P: Do you feel that the role has given you that chance to see how the different parts of the agency feed the greater mission?

C: Yes. My background of project management and data entry led me to believe that a lot of this volunteer role would be sitting at a computer, and some of it has been. But probably some of the more surprising and enlightening parts of this position have been those things that don’t involve a computer aspect.

By being in front of clients, being in the admin office, and working with Quality Management, I’m starting to get a sense of how intricate client-facing services are. I’m understanding that the success of the whole mission revolves around a coordination of these services that isn’t obvious on the ground and certainly wasn’t obvious to me before I started. The intricacy [of coordinating all these services] is kind of infinite.

"To just see the sense of community within that residential building; to see the cooperation, camaraderie and community; and to engage with clients at the level was personally meaningful."

P: Has there been one project in particular that was the most interesting?

C: I’m going to give you two answers. The most insightful experience was the strategic planning interview project, in that I got to hear specialized input about specific collaborations and projects and then I got to engage in conversation on some very high level stuff. So from an admin perspective that was the most insightful. But the most meaningful was serving Thanksgiving dinner. To just see the sense of community within that residential building; to see the cooperation, camaraderie and community; and to engage with clients at the level was personally meaningful. So it’s nice on the one hand to have the 30,000 foot view of admin, and then the ground-level view of daily life.

P: When you talk with others about this experience that you’ve had, what is it that you share with them?

C: I start with the range of services that are provided. I never knew what those trucks were doing, for one. But also that CCC isn’t just housing, it’s not just these buildings in the downtown core, but also the medical and rehabilitative services, counseling, job transition support, culturally specific programs. I emphasize the breadth of those service to people I speak with. It’s not just a bed to sleep in, it’s a range of support systems that allow people to get on their own two feet and eventually build a life.



Graduations 2018: A new life in a new direction

Jun 29, 2018

“We’ve started a new life in a new direction,” said Emily, “I wish everyone the very best!”

Her graduation ceremony was like many others: 39 grads clutched their new certificates and thanked the people who had helped them get through. But Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) June 2018 graduation ceremony was different from most because the participants finished 80 hours of volunteer service that helped them get back into the working mode after disruption due to substance use, poverty, health issues or homelessness. And this particular celebration was special because it included two participants from CVC’s newly expanded Gresham program, including Emily.

Central City Concern's most recent group of Community Volunteer Corps graduates pose for a group photo following the ceremony.

CVC started in 2009 as a way for newly recovering people to get out in the community and practice soft job skills such as teamwork and time management. Through working with others and giving back, participants gain self-confidence and make a commitment to a new, healthy life. Since 2009, CVC participants have volunteered 131,317 hours to the community through more than 30 nonprofit partners and government organizations such as Portland Parks & Recreation, Free Geek and Oregon Food Bank.

One June grad, Dina, said “I really had fun. My drinking had killed me inside and CVC gave me back my self-confidence.” Daniel said, “CVC has been my favorite part of my recovery. I felt good about myself at the end of the day.”

CVC also recently began a partnership with Project Clean Slate, a program that helps people regain their driver’s license and expunge minor criminal convictions so they can get on track to meaningful employment. “I got my driver’s license back,” said one participant, proudly pulling his temporary license out of his pocket for all to see.

One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

CVC participants range in age and come from a variety of backgrounds; for many, working with others on volunteer projects has changed their lives. “CVC has helped me learn to be friendlier and more personable,” said Donna. Jennifer said, “I’m grateful for the chance to develop close relationships with my peers.”

In addition to their certificate, CVC graduates receive a small cash stipend, photos from their time in CVC to remind them of the camaraderie they developed and a letter of recommendation to send them into the world of future employment. CCC’s Employment Access Center has employment specialists who work with CVC participants on writing resumes, interview skills and getting permanent jobs. One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

About 100 people attended the event, including volunteers from Airbnb who had spent the morning at CCC’s Employment Access Center helping clients (including some CVC grads) with computer skills.



Bringing out the BEST for CCC Clients

Mar 29, 2018

A detailed application. Multiple questionnaires. Medical exams and psychiatric assessments. Probing, personal questions about your past. Unforgiving deadlines.

Just reading those words might be enough to make you feel overwhelmed. Welcome to the process for pursuing Social Security benefits.

The application process is notorious for being as complicated as it is comprehensive: it ensures that only those who are truly unable to earn wages receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. Unfortunately, the high degree of difficulty also means that those who are most in need of the stabilizing lifeline of Social Security income are often unable to successfully apply by their own efforts.

BEST program staffers build the strongest Social Security benefits case possible for each client by reviewing medical records, performing interviews, and coordinating assessments.Many of the people Central City Concern (CCC) serves fit in this category. So since March 2008, CCC’s Benefits and Entitlements Specialist Team (BEST) program has helped particularly vulnerable individuals—most experiencing homelessness or deep poverty and living with severe disabilities that keep them from gaining their own income through employment—navigate the maze.

“The stress of telling their story and reliving traumas is often overwhelming and triggering,” says Kas Causeya, BEST’s program manager. “Add in complicated terminology and unfamiliarity with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Service (DDS) criteria for awardees, and the applicant’s chance for errors rockets up if they try on their own.”

BEST’s benefits specialists walk side-by-side with each client and use their expertise to maximize the chances of a successful application. They gather information through interviews with the client and those who may know more about their situation. They coordinate psychological and medical exams, which BEST pays for. And while the client’s cognitive impairment can add a level of difficulty, BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

...BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

The goal is, of course, to gain approval for Social Security benefits. To awardees, their income is much more than a check. It represents pride in being able to meet basic needs and pay rent. It inspires feelings of dignity by giving them a means to make purchases that allow a measure of self-sufficiency. The financial stability gives them freedom to engage meaningfully with their communities.

Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,600 people have found hope with the help of BEST.

Kellie F. counts herself among the fortunate. She has an exceedingly difficult time remembering things, a lifelong condition that has caused her great difficulties. She experienced multiple traumas growing up, and fresher ones as she moved through adulthood. She became heavily dependent on alcohol to cope.

“My memory thing is really flustering. There are things I wish I wish I could remember that I can’t. And there are some things from my past I don’t want to remember, but I do.”

Her substance use disorder brought her to CCC’s Hooper Detox, and from there she engaged with CCC’s 8x8 Recovery Housing program, where she started developing the tools and skills for successful long-term recovery. Her case manager recognized Kellie’s difficulty with memory and referred her to the BEST program, if only for an initial assessment to see if her difficulties would qualify her for Social Security. That’s where she met Marshal, a BEST specialist.

“I found Kellie to be very eager and motivated to engage in the BEST process. As I reviewed her case I read the story of someone who faced significant barriers to work but who, despite much suffering and hardship, continued to persevere,” recollects Marshal.

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Together, Marshal and Kellie dived into the process. They explored Kellie’s understanding of her impairments and how they impacted her daily life. Marshal took her to a psychologist for a cognitive evaluation, helped her complete a phone interview with the Social Security office, met with her to review her work history, and again to go over little details to further strengthen her claim. Marshal and his BEST colleagues reviewed all her medical records, wrote a detailed report summarizing their argument for Kellie’s behalf, and kept in regular contact with SSA and DDS. Through it all, he made sure to keep the line of communication with Kellie as open and inviting as possible, earning and nurturing a sense of mutual trust.

Stacks of paperwork that grow to a foot high over the course of building a client's case are a common sight in the BEST office.“I felt nervous at first about [applying]. And there were times when were times I felt overwhelmed by the questions,” Kellie says. “But Marshal was really encouraging and supportive.”

Kellie and Marshal had good reason to feel optimistic about her chances once they sent in her application. Due to their fluency in the system, BEST wins 67 percent of their initial applications, compared to 32 percent of applicants from the general population. To put BEST’s expertise even more starkly, only 15 percent of applicants nationwide who are homeless are awarded benefits. The program’s close relationship and coordination with SSA and DDS mitigate many of the stumbling blocks that lead to unsuccessful applications.

On average, applicants receive an initial decision about 110 days after they submit their application; for BEST clients, they hear back, on average, within 74 days. Kellie received her results. But as is the case in 33 percent of BEST’s initial applications, Kellie received a heartbreaking denial. “I felt like I didn’t know where I was going to go from there,” she says.

Marshal acted quickly to reconfigure and strengthen Kellie’s case and filed for reconsideration. “We don’t like to see denials as ‘no,’” says Marshal. “We take it as a ‘just not yet’ and go from there.”

BEST’s perseverance pays off. An additional 6 percent of BEST’s clients win awards after a reconsideration or appeal, upping their overall success rate to 72 percent. Kellie eventually received a second letter. She had qualified for SSDI. Marshal’s extra efforts made all the difference.

“They saw that I really do have a disability that keeps me from working,” she says. “I was very happy about that. Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

“Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Behind each of the awards—and the reams of paperwork and hours of information gathering that went into them—is a person who has found stability they wouldn’t have had otherwise. A person who doesn’t feel as anxious about how they’ll afford necessities. A person who feels prepared to become a contributing part of the community. A person like Kellie.

“When I found out I qualified for SSDI, I felt like I could be part of society again. I feel better about myself now,” she says. “I actually just put in an application to do some volunteering.”

It often takes many hands to guide people toward self-sufficiency, however that ends up looking like for each person. Since 2008, more than 150 community partners— including BEST’s original partners:, the City of Portland, Providence Health & Services, and the Kaiser Community Fund—have played some role in helping more than 1,600 people achieve independence.

Receiving benefits doesn’t make Kellie’s memory impairments any better, which severely affect how she navigates each day. But she has a perspective that keeps her looking and moving forward.

“I can remember the things I need to remember that keep me on the good path now. Life is a heck of a lot better than it was.”



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.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2018 Edition

Feb 27, 2018

This month, we’re turning the spotlight on a part of Central City Concern that hosts almost a quarter of all the volunteers at CCC! With so many great folks to share, we couldn’t pick just one, so this month’s spotlight features two of our dedicated volunteers from the Letty Owings Center (LOC). 

Since LOC’s first days, volunteers have played a large role in bringing activities and extra comforts to the mothers and children who live there. Nerissa Heller, who oversees LOC, had this to say about the value of having volunteers in the program: “Volunteers have supported LOC since its inception in 1989. It truly makes the women in our care feel valued and special to have volunteers take time out of their day to give them positive, caring attention.” 

Our two volunteers this month get to engage with mothers and children in two very different, but equally appreciated, ways. One thing that both of them share is the feeling that volunteership gives them as much if not more than they feel they give. Read on to hear about their work at LOC!

• • •

Megan Hornby

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Two years. We were supporting CCC financially while we were still working, but then when I was full-time retired I wanted to give some time.

What is it that you do as a volunteer? I come in and I help the staff at the nursery by holding babies, playing with the babies, and basically giving them a little help at the end of the week. When they are full with about seven or eight babies, it’s a lot to keep everybody peaceful and happy.

Did you have experience working with kids before volunteering? Yeah, I have a lot of grandchildren, none of whom live in the area, so that’s another reason I like playing with the babies. I also have a background in nursing and working with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children.

What’s kept you coming back to volunteer? Volunteering, I decided, is something that I should really look forward to, otherwise I wasn’t going to be very good at it. So this is just one of my favorite days of the week because I enjoy being with the babies a lot and I enjoy the staff here. The staff are very professional and warm and appreciative. So it’s kind of a win-win. I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer.

Have there been any stand-out moments? I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses of the mothers. They’re pretty impressive. That they’re trying to deal with something that’s as difficult as addictions and at the same time balancing being a young parent. It’s pretty impressive to watch them go through the program and get their lives back on track. They do a lot of hard work to get there.

"I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer."
-Megan H., CCC Volunteer

With your experience in mental health, do you see anything that’s different at CCC than other, similar services? I think the best thing about CCC that’s really unique is that it’s not fragmented so when somebody graduates from the Letty Owings Center, they still have the supports they need to go on to the next phase. They have housing, outpatient treatment, and they don’t get dumped in the system without those critical supports. That’s very unusual in the social services system and I think it’s one of the best things about CCC.

There’s almost a huge loop in that people that are super successful sometimes come back and work [with CCC], which also makes the whole culture of the program very hopeful. [Recovery] is a lifetime of work and here they see some of the staff people who are still working on it, but they’re working and they’re employed and they have homes and a life with real relationships. It’s a very hopeful place.

• • •

June Hensala

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Let’s say two-and-a-half years, to be safe.

What is your volunteer position? I get to go out for coffee! Isn’t that the best job ever? Another friend from church and I come over and pick up a couple gals, and once in a while they have children with them, and we go out and have coffee and visit. I’m not giving any advice, I’m just having coffee with these gals and having a nice time.

Was this something that you and this person started? No, this has been going on for a long time. There was this gal named Carol, who had been with LOC practically since it began, and she volunteered everywhere, but one of the things she did was take a couple mothers out for coffee with another friend. Carol died about three years ago and I had read this book about remembering people, and part of that was remembering them by action. So I’m remembering Carol when I take them out to coffee.

"I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, 'We like to have you for coffee.'"
-June H., CCC Volunteer

Had you worked with kids or families prior to your volunteership? Well, indirectly. I was a nurse and so I was trained in caring for others and noticing others. When I raised my kids, I did Cub Scouts and the like, but I’m 80 years old now, so that’s one of the things I like about going to LOC is seeing gals that are in their 20s and getting to talk to somebody that is a different age. Our society separates people so much, so I really like that contact with the younger generation.

What do you feel the benefit is for the clients who are going out to coffee? Well, often we get the gals that are just new to LOC, so they don’t have a routine yet and they’re also dealing with the early stages of recovery. So we give some encouragement, but I think the gain is really more on my part. I gain a lot out of it, really. I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, “We like to have you for coffee.” It was such a caring, wonderful thing.

Have there been any stand out moments? I’m always very impressed with how caring the girls are to each other. It’s not just the staff, the girls seem to help each other. They share, they encourage one another, and they say, “Oh, we’re buddies.” So, I think that’s helpful if you know somebody’s going through the same thing you are.

Their feeling of hope I’ve been impressed with, as well. [They’ll say], “This is a wonderful place, this is a good place. The staff is good here,” not, “Oh, this is really hard.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer? Well, I get rewarded for it. I’ve always felt a very strong trust in God all my life and I feel like God puts me places where I get the most out of it. And every day I fill up with God’s love, and I have to do that, so I can then go out and love others. And I’ve liked all the girls. At first, I thought, “Oh maybe there will be somebody there that’s a bit too wild,” but they’re not. They’ve just been wonderful girls that have experienced addiction.

I’m also in the quilting group at my church and we make quilts for all the Letty Owing Center clients. When they graduate [the program] they each get a quilt. So that keeps me involved, and it keeps the church involved as well.

And it really broadens your life scope. I’m retired and you just get isolated by that. Volunteering takes you out of your world and pushes you somewhere else. It’s nice to see a lot of good, and it’s what I’ve seen. It’s been a really positive experience.



Olympia Provisions: Making First-rate Meats, Providing Second-chance Careers

Jan 23, 2018

Central City Concern (CCC) takes great care in building relationships with great employers. Our Employment Access Center assisted 1,126 job seekers in 2017, and several of them have gone to work for a fantastic partner: Olympia Provisions.

“Olympia Provisions is committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and our environment,” says Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader. “So we work with CCC to help people find new chances and new opportunities to do good work that they can be proud of. We have had great success with multiple employees who were hired with limited knowledge of meat processing, USDA factory sanitation and/or restaurant operations.”

Olympia Provisions and CCC have been working together on-and-off for about five years, placing people who may have had barriers to employment in the past such as substance use disorders, criminal justice issues or homelessness. Cheryl M. found her position at Olympia Provisions through CCC’s Employment Access Center. She describes her past work experience as “poor,” so she was especially happy to get a job as restaurant dishwasher there in August 2017.

"We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals."
-Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader

Getting a job at Olympia Provisions is a great move for anyone. Taylor says their work environment is relaxed, positive and focused on producing the best product possible, every time. “We have fun and we get it done,” he says. “We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals. There is ample room for vertical growth for those who are motivated and diligent. We offer competitive wages, generous paid time off, health benefits, an Employee Assistance Program, discounts around Portland, free shares of delicious meats and free cooked lunch every day!”

Cheryl says, “My favorite things about working there are the people and the atmosphere. I really enjoy working there a lot.”

Olympia Provisions, founded in 2009, is a team of dedicated employees who craft the finest award-winning charcuterie (prepared meats such as salami and pate) in the world and provide unrivaled customer service at five restaurant locations around Portland. “We are known in households, restaurants and grocery stores as the premier makers of authentic, old-world charcuterie. Our vision is to make the world better through food and to make people happy. We are doing this by being obsessed with quality, relentlessly pursuing mastery in our professional positions, and being committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and the environment.”

Anyone who has sampled Olympia Provision’s delicious products can taste the care and devotion the company has to their work. CCC is grateful to have them for a partner, and the feeling is mutual.

“Over the years employees who come to us from CCC have demonstrated reliability, initiative and positive can-do attitudes,” Taylor says. “As such, they have been promoted through the ranks to supervisor and management positions. We'd like to find more excellent employees like them!”

To learn more about Olympia Provisions, visit their website.



Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start

Jan 22, 2018

The following article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Hey Neighbor!, a free publication from Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN). Many thanks to NECN for recognizing and sharing the work of Central City Concern's expanding Clean Start PDX program!

• • •

Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start
By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

On a Monday morning, J.P. King starts up the engine to his pick-up truck and heads across the river from Old Town to the Inner Eastside. As the lead crew member of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods’ (NECN) pilot program, Clean Start PDX, he will spend the day making the rounds to various outdoor encampments in the inner northeast area, and working with the residents there. He cleans up abandoned camps, provides garbage bags and other cleaning supplies to active sites, and removes debris as needed. But to J.P., it’s the one-on-one contact with residents that makes the real difference, whether it’s directing people to shelters or connecting them with other resources in the city. “I know everyone in these camps by name,“ he says. “They know I’m here to help.”

The program began last year when Adam Lyons, Executive Director of NECN, was hearing from community members about the increase in trash and debris on roadsides, along with an increase in campers. “It’s a livability issue,” he says. “But it’s also a symptom of a much greater problem.” So, in partnership with Central City Concern, the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Eliot Neighborhood Association, NECN secured funding from the city to address the issue in the inner eastside core.

Based on the same model that the Clean and Safe program uses, the idea isn’t to enforce camping policies for the city, but rather to help make the city cleaner and nicer for everyone who lives here. In fewer than six months of operation, it’s making a big impact: between August and October alone, J.P. and his Clean Start PDX crew have cleaned up 149 camps which included nearly 2000 bags of trash and 779 needles, and all manner of bio-hazardous materials.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Clean and Safe and Clean Start PDX is that it’s tackling multiple issues at once. It’s not just a cleaning service for the city streets, but is in fact a job-training and skills-building program to help individuals with a history of homelessness, addiction, or incarceration build a better future. “The program is a triple win,” says Jay McIntyre, program manager for Clean and Safe and chief liaison for Clean Start. “It’s a win for our employees, it’s a win for the people experiencing homelessness, and it’s a win for these neighborhoods.”

Looking forward, NECN hopes to use this model as a template for helping other neighborhoods do the same. “We’re trying to be proactive in solving a problem that most residents say is top of their list of concerns in Portland,” says Lyons. But he is quick to point out that, in so many words, it takes a village: “This isn’t an isolated problem, or one that’s unique to Portland. It’s complex and difficult, and it’s important that we as neighbors, businesses owners, and especially city officials take charge and try solutions instead of just throwing our hands up in frustration. It’s up to all of us to make this city the one we want to live in.”