Rooted in Community: Puentes

Aug 08, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Rooted in Community: Imani Center

Aug 07, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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.”



Portland-area 2019 Black History Month Events

Feb 05, 2019

At Central City Concern, we believe that one of the most immediate, tangible ways to celebrate Black History Month is to support and attend events organized by and/or featuring Black Portlanders. There are dozens of amazing events scheduled for the Portland metro area throughout February, many of which are free and appropriate for all ages!

To help you easily find events you can attend, we’ve collected links to several calendars of Black History Month events. We encourage you to explore the richness of (and diversity within) Black history and culture by attending some of these events!

Black History Festival NW Calendar: Wildly popular last year, this month-long festival brings a jaw-dropping array of performances, exhibits, lectures, pop-up markets, food events and more to various locations all over Portland. The theme for 2019 is Our 2019 Theme is “Black Migration: The State of Black Love.” (Link)

Red Tricycle’s Black History Month Calendar: A popular resource for activities, Red Tricycle lists eight particularly family-friendly ways to celebrate Black History Month in Portland. (Link)

Annual Cascade Festival of African Films Calendar: In its 29th year, this film festival is the “longest running annual, non-profit, non-commercial, largely volunteer-run African Film Festival in the United States.” All films are shown at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus (with a few exceptions). All shows are free and open to the public. (Link)

City of Portland Calendar: Four events sponsored or organized by the City of Portland, city employees or Portland bureaus. ( Link)



Celebrating Black History Month

Feb 01, 2019

Black History Month is a time for celebration, reflection and hope for the future. Yet as we celebrate the beautiful, vibrant and resilient Black (African-American) culture, we cannot forget the struggles Black people have endured and continue to endure today.

Black people experience discrimination and racial profiling, and are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. This is why Central City Concern (CCC) invests in programs such as the Imani Center and Flip the Script to increase services to this community historically underserved by organizations that help people find housing, behavioral health services and employment opportunities. Afrocentric programs are a great start for our organization, but we know there is more we can do: not only to celebrate the history of the Black community inside and outside our organization, but also to identify and address the ways in which white supremacy drives care inequities. Recognizing our responsibility, CCC is committed to being a diverse, anti-racist, equitable and inclusive organization, with this promise reflected in our organizational leadership, as well as institutional practices and policies that promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

We are stepping closer to this goal. Freda Ceaser, previously CCC’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, is now CCC’s Chief Equity Officer (CEqO). Freda leads with vision, skill and innovation to inspire and push the organization forward. She will build on her current work, setting and implementing an overarching vision of DEI—both at the programmatic and administrative levels—that promotes inclusive practices in our structures, culture and leadership.

Afrocentric programs are a great start for our organization, but we know there is more we can do: not only to celebrate the history of the Black community inside and outside our organization, but also to identify and address the ways in which white supremacy drives care inequities.

CCC has also made additional investments in the Office of Equity and Inclusion, hiring Associate Director Mariam Admasu to provide support to the director’s leadership team. Mariam will hire an equity specialist in the coming months to add an additional layer of support to CCC staff. In order to ensure that the Office of Equity and Inclusion has the bandwidth and resources to move work forward, we have also engaged two Portland State University School of Social Work interns, Shaun Cook and Clarice Jordan.

CCC will invest as needed to follow through on our commitment to becoming more diverse, anti-racist, equitable and inclusive by building institutional infrastructure and capacity to do the work. In the coming year, CCC will work with a local consultant to capture a wide snapshot of where we are today with regard to equity and inclusion through interviews and listening sessions with CCC’s board, clients and staff. This assessment will result in an equity lens, DEI governance model and DEI organizational roadmap.

Lastly, CCC’s advancing equity strategic goals were made as a roadmap to ensuring the best, most responsive services possible to Black people and people of color, with a focus on intentional efforts to have our staff reflect the communities they serve.

While Black History Month presents an opportunity for CCC to celebrate Black culture, we also look ahead to the many opportunities during the remaining 11 months to make a difference!



Trans Awareness Week 2018

Nov 13, 2018

This week is Trans Awareness Week, a time to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and to shed light on issues the community faces. The week leads up to Trans Day of Remembrance on Tuesday, Nov. 20, a deeply important observance to honor the memory of those whose lives have been lost to anti-trans violence.

During the past year, Central City Concern has moved forward in our work to ensure that our programs and services, as well as our staff members, are safe, welcoming and inclusive of our transgender and gender non-confirming clients. We’re on a journey to become the organization we’ve envisioned ourselves to be—and truly believe that we become. But that means a lot listening and learning, and of course acting, to make meaningful strides forward.

There are several events in the Portland metro area that mark Trans Awareness Week, all leading up to the Trans Day of Remembrance. Descriptions are from the event hosts:

Friday, Nov. 16

WontBeErasedPDX Call to Action: We will hold spaces for autonomous action from the community, and for people to come together with friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers, schoolmates, and other trusted comrades to plan peaceful direct actions. (Link)

Saturday, Nov. 17

Trans Action and Care Conference 2018: 2018 will mark the second annual Transgender Action & Care Conference (TACC) held at Portland State University! The Conference will take place Saturday, November 17th from 10:00-4:00 PM in the Smith Student Memorial Building (1825 SW Broadway). TACC is part of November's Trans Empowerment Resistance & Resilience Days, which celebrate and empower transgender, non-binary, gender-expansive, Two-Spirit, and gender non-conforming people and communities. This year's theme is "WE DEMAND MORE," inspired by the idea that trans people deserve more than just mere survival. We invite attendees to imagine a world where gender diversity is actively honored, rather than memorialized - and we get our roses while we're still here. (Link)

Monday, Nov. 19

Remember Us: Trans History of the PNW: Please join us for an interactive, educational workshop focusing on trans history. You will come away from this event feeling more connected to both our collective history and your own place in it. (Link)

Tuesday, Nov. 20

Trans Diaspora of Resilience: Born out of a shared frustration with white-dominated Trans spaces, Ori Gallery is partnering with Forward Together & Sankofa Collective Northwest to bring you a night of celebrating our Transcestors, eachother and visions of a better future than the one we've been handed.

The evening will feature a pop-up exhibition of Trans Artists of Color, hella food, bomb music, TPoC performers and a community altar space for you to contribute to. (Link)

Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial Service: A memorial service in the Quaker tradition will include silent centering, reading of the names of those murdered in the US in the past year, a releasing fire and opportunity to share reflections (Link)

Butterflies: A Trans Day of Remembrance Youth Drag Show: Butterflies: A Transgender Day of Remembrance Youth Drag Show is a youth-organized and youth-performed drag show both honoring the transgender people we have lost and celebrating the transgender people that are still here, with a focus on transgender youth. This drag show is supportive of nonbinary individuals, gender non-conformity, and people of color. Hosted by the fabulous Heiress Cleopatra. (Link)

Wednesday, Nov. 21

Trans Day of Resistance: Let’s use the occasion of trans remembrance this month to build the TRANS RESISTANCE. Let’s use this community meeting as a jumping-off point for a coordinated movement against right-wing attacks and for fully-funded social programming, housing, Medicare for all, and other crucial priorities for the trans community and all working and oppressed people. (Link)

 



NHCW Health Care Hero: Charlesetta Dobson

Aug 15, 2018

Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program is a shining example of how we tailor our services to meet the unique needs of a population. Imani Center counselors and peer support specialists provide their clients with Afrocentric, trauma-informed approaches to mental health and addictions treatment. It’s a life-changing program that represents the best and most innovative approaches CCC has to offer.

But the work they do—and the dramatic progress their clients make—can quickly unravel without stable, supportive housing.

That’s where Charlesetta Dobson, a housing case manager based in CCC’s Richard Harris building, enters the scene. Part of her case load is devoted to Imani Center clients making the transition into our supportive housing program. To Charlesetta, the link between housing and Imani Center’s health care services is bright as day.

“This housing provides them the stability that gives them a chance to succeed in the health care services they’re engaged in,” she says. “When you have keys here, you have that stability. You’re not having to worry about which doorstep you’re going to sleep in or if someone’s going to go through your stuff.”

“My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it. So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

Charlesetta works closely with the Imani Center to support clients during their delicate first steps on the path of recovery. She meets with incoming residents before they move in, connects them to resources, and holds weekly check-ins with each person to keep them accountable to their treatment plan. She helps tenants connect their Imani Center treatment goals with their housing goals.

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

“The clients know they can always find an empathetic ear and unwavering support in Charlesetta,” says the Imani Center’s director, Linda Hudson. “It’s so clear to clients that she wants so much for them to succeed.”

To clients, Charlesetta is a model of someone who has everything together. She’s both knowledgeable and patient, compassionate and non-judgmental. She admits, however, that she hasn’t always been the person others see today.

Charlesetta grew up surrounded by problematic behaviors. “My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it,” she shares. “So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

While Charlesetta feels fortunate to have avoided substance use, early and constant exposure to related behaviors like stealing derailed her plans. She eventually faced an 18-month sentence for organized retail theft.

“I remember thinking that this is not the plan! That was the point I started to get my life together,” Charlesetta says. “For me it was either 18 months in jail or 18 months to transform my life.”

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

She used the time going back and forth with the courts about her case to enroll in school. She studied hard, built relationships with professors, and committed to becoming part of the solution. She pursued her associate’s degree in alcohol and drug counseling, which led her to CCC as a Letty Owings Center intern.

While the work Charlesetta does with Imani Center clients is professionally satisfying, it also remains deeply personal.

“It’s important for me to help people who look like my mother, who look like my aunties—to be able to give them the resources and opportunities that I feel like my mother didn’t necessarily have access to,” she says. “It’s important for me to be on the other side of everything I saw and had experience in before.”

Charlesetta is living her calling. There are hard days, of course. Seeing residents submit a second positive urine test, which violates the program agreement. Seeing residents leave the program for various reasons. Knowing that she won’t be able to walk alongside their journey, at least for the time being.

But she’s inspired by those “who are working their butts off. The ones taking suggestions, following through with everything,” says Charlesetta. “I get an intense satisfaction when I see someone doing what they’re supposed to do, even if it’s not according to their original plan. Sort of like me.”



Graduations 2018: It Doesn't End Here

Jul 04, 2018

In a room filled with 75 people communally punctuating a graduation ceremony with joyful whoops, thunderous ovations, and raucous laughter, it was perhaps the small pockets of silence that spoke the loudest about the magnitude of the event.

The attendees had gathered for a mahafali—Swahili for graduation—at which a dozen graduates of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program would be recognized. The Imani Center provides culturally responsive Afrocentric approaches to substance use disorder treatment and mental health counseling, connecting clients to the wider Black recovery community in Portland, Ore. The family members, friends and staff members from across CCC who were there had every reason to be in the mood to celebrate those being honored.

Graduates of the Imani Center program expressed great joy and gratitude to their counselors, as well as their friends, family, and peers who attended the graduation ceremony.

Imani Center counselors called up their graduating clients one by one, sharing words about their journey together and offering words of pride, insight and encouragement. Each graduate met and hugged their counselor, awash in the sound of applause. They received their certificate, tucked in a sturdy, handsome red or blue folder. The applause petered out.

Then… quiet.

For some graduates, no more than a second. For some others, maybe it was 10. But the silence wasn’t just an absence of sound; it was the incoming rush of a feeling.

Graduates used that time to glance down at their certificate, tracing their eyes over the words that confirmed that they had indeed taken a major step forward in the recovery: Certificate of Completion... Presented to... Has Successfully Completed.

They had not only started their journeys of recovery; they’d taken monumental steps forward on the path, and they were still on it that day.

One graduate, after she had collected herself, said, “I didn’t really think I’d graduate the mental health program. A year ago I was hearing voices. I’m so proud of myself. This is a step up. It’s been such a long time since I’ve accomplished anything positive.”

“We don’t need drugs. We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”

Another looked up from her certificate and scanned the packed community room, finding a reminder of the community effort that got her to this day. “We don’t need drugs,” she said. “We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”

The Imani Center is an exceptionally tailored program that uses a model of substance use disorder and mental health treatment developed to account for the Black community’s unique assets, culture, traumas and experiences. As such, Linda Hudson, CCC’s director of African-American services, closed the mahafali with words that spoke to the community’s ties that helped the graduates reach this moment and dream hopefully in their own futures.

“Imani is building a village to support our community. Find somebody coming up behind you and pull them up with you. It doesn’t end here.”



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.