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

Aug 06, 2019

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Rooted in Community: Old Town Clinic

Aug 05, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CCC Public Policy Mid-year Update

Jul 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Multnomah County Budget hearings

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

State legislative session

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

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

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

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

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

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CCC 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.

     

     



Donor Profile: Kelli Payne

Jun 11, 2019

CCC donor Kelli Payne (right) with her husband and baby.Central City Concern (CCC) supporter Kelli Payne is a courtesy signer for real estate closings, helping people through the paperwork for buying, selling and refinancing their homes. She donates five percent of her business proceeds to local nonprofits, including CCC.

“I’ve seen and experienced the transformation that happens when people have a loving home,” she says. “I’ve lived in cities where there were clear social problems, but it was easy to drive or walk faster past these problems and go about my life. I’ve been given the opportunity through volunteering to talk to people impacted by homelessness and mental illness and see my own human struggle and suffering reflected in their stories.”

Kelli finds it easy to simply share a portion of her earnings. “Giving a percentage makes my contribution manageable and ties my business to the incredibly impactful work of organizations like CCC,” she says. “When I conduct business I do it to better my own circumstances and to lift up my Portland community. This amplifies the meaning I find in my work and going about my day.”

“[Giving] amplifies the meaning I find in my work and going about my day.”

When it comes to choosing where to give, for Kelli, the choice was easy. “CCC does life-saving work of helping our Portland neighbors recover from homelessness to live productive lives,” she says. “CCC confronts the complex and often overwhelming issues around homelessness, and provides a tunnel out with resources and opportunities. Anyone driving around Portland can see that CCC is doing exactly what this city needs, helping people find a way into a life in recovery. I have a friend whose son’s life was saved by CCC. It’s an honor to carry their mission with me every day.”

Kelli recommends the percentage model when it comes to businesses sharing with the community. “Contributing a percentage has made it manageable,” she says.

“Giving back has improved my relationship with money as I’m better with budgeting and embraced an abundance mindset. I listened to my own heart song and took the leap, and it has been truly rewarding.”



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.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2018 Edition

Aug 29, 2018

For this week's volunteer spotlight, we're turning to a volunteer who has already appeared twice before in our spotlights, but never as the sole featured volunteer. Given her dedicated service (Judy was one of thirteen volunteers to give more than 100 hours of service in 2017) we thought it was high time she got her own entry.

Judy is one of several volunteers who serve at the Old Town Clinic as a clinic concierge. The role was designed to help promote the clinic as a welcoming, inclusive place, where the first person you would encounter would be someone who is smiling and asking how you day is going. Judy exemplifies this role to a 'T.' In addition to the warmth she bringing to her conversations with people, where almost every sentence is punctuated with a smile and a laugh, Judy also brings experience into her interactions with patients at the clinic. Read on to see how volunteering helps her connect with her community and about the moments that have made the role particularly special for her.

• • •

While Judy's career has spanned from community development to paleontology (really!), a deep personal connection brought her to volunteer with CCC.What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Judy Sanders and I volunteer as a concierge at the Old Town Clinic.

How long have you been volunteering with CCC?
I’ve been here probably not quite a year-and-a-half yet. It was a year in the spring.

How did you find out about this opportunity and/or CCC?
Well, I knew about CCC because one of my sons was a client of CCC’s for a number of years. When I moved back to Portland after I retired for real—I retired once and went off and worked for ten more years—I wanted to do volunteer work. As you get older, you kind of start to question if you’re earning your place to still be around, so I needed something to do to make me feel like I had some function left in the world. So, I just called up and asked if you had volunteers.

Had you worked in a clinic before?
No, I had never done anything in health care before, but I had worked with people a lot. I did community development work for 20 years for the City of Portland, so I was used to working with all kinds of people. I was actually in charge of regulatory compliance, so I have come out and monitored CCC a couple of times over the years!

And your “other job” was in…?
Dinosaur paleontology. I did that for ten years while I still had a day job, then when I retired from the City my mentor said, “Come and work for me,” so then I worked in paleo full time for ten years.

“People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like 'thank you' for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week."

Do you find that those jobs inform your work as a concierge?
Well, I’ve worked with all kinds of people, and I did oversee some projects in the city serving people experiencing homelessness. But probably more than anything it was my son, because he was homeless for some time and he had alcohol and drug addiction. One of the things that I remember he used to say—that I utilize here—is that he would talk about how he just wanted to feel like a regular person. He hated that everywhere he went he was a patient or a client and he just sometimes wanted to feel like everybody else. So, when I talk to people at the clinic we talk about all sorts of things.

And some people do want to talk about [their medical stuff] and that’s fine, but I do try to find something to talk to people about other than the fact that they’re sick or injured.

Since you’ve been here for a while, do you find that patients are recognizing you when they come in?
Yeah, a lot of them that come in regularly know who I am and I know more or less who they are. I was talking to [an acupuncture client] today and he was saying that it made him feel good to have someone there to talk to and I said, “Yeah, it makes me feel good to see you guys.” I think it’s nice for people to see someone who is familiar; I think it makes them more comfortable. But I think for a lot of people it’s just having someone smile and say hi, notice them. And for me it’s great. People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like thank you for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week.

Have there been any stand out moments in your time so far?
One was just a younger fellow who reminds me some of my son, and this fellow is in and out of sobriety, and when he was in sobriety last he was staying with his mother and she would come with him [to appointments]. While he was in his appointment, I just sat with his mother and talked to her and she told me what she was going through and I shared a little of what I went through with my son and kind of said, “It’s okay to feel this way. I did too.”

And so I think it helped her to have someone to talk about it with, because I know when I was going through that with my son, you just don’t feel comfortable talking to people who haven’t experienced it because you feel like they can’t understand and they tend to judge and tend to think you did something bad and weren’t a good mother. So, it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him.

“...it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him."

There are also a couple people who are deaf that come and there’s one lady who’s really good at reading lips, but I decided, “I’m going to learn a little bit of sign language.” I just learned to say a few things and I was so proud of myself when she came in the first time and I signed to her and she perked up. And then there were two other ladies that came in later and they saw me talking to her and they came running over, because they were deaf as well, and said, “You sign?” And then they gave me some flashcards with the alphabet, because I always have trouble with some of the letters, so now those two ladies come in and we chat a little.

And what keeps you coming back to volunteer, now that you’ve done a year-and-a-half?
For me personally, one thing is just that I do need to be out and doing things, I need to feel like I’m still productive in life. But particularly now that I’ve been here a while and know some staff and a lot of the clients, I miss them if I don’t come. I wonder if they were there and if they were okay.

Usually my last question is what would you tell folks who were interested in volunteering, but since you host so many prospective volunteers who are shadowing the concierge role, I wonder if there’s something that you tell them about the role to win them over?
For one thing, I just tell people how much I enjoy it and just what a good time I have! I just find it really rewarding and if I have the chance to spend time with someone that you know really needed somebody to talk to, it just makes you feel good. I would always, with my son, hope that when he wasn’t around, there would be somebody that would be there to be nice to him. So, hopefully I’m doing that for other mothers who can’t do that for their kids.

Was there anything else you were hoping to tell us?
I think one of the things I like about having people come and shadow, particularly ones who haven’t really had much experience with [this population], is that I think it’s really important that as many people as possible get to be involved with all different parts of the community. The people that come to the clinic, they’re not any different than anybody else. They have the same issues and problems and I find, in life, that over the years people just live in their little box and you only meet people like you and it makes all the other people around in the world seem different. It’s not until you get to know people, and whether its people from other counties or life experiences, you just don’t understand that there is actually so little difference. So, I really like the fact that people are willing to come and try it out.



CCC Announces New Public Policy Director

Aug 01, 2018

Mercedes Elizalde will join Central City Concern (CCC) as public policy director on Tuesday, Aug. 7. CCC, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979, provides housing, health care and employment in Portland for people experiencing homelessness and poverty.

As public policy director, Mercedes will collaborate with government agencies and community organizations to advance policy initiatives in support of CCC’s mission. She will be responsible for policy analysis, advocacy, public education, and coalition-building efforts to find support and solutions for CCC clients and programs.

“Mercedes brings a wealth of experience in the field, as well as a passion for social justice and equal opportunity. She will be a great asset to our team and the community,” says Sean Hubert, CCC’s chief housing and strategy officer. “We’re thrilled she’s joining CCC.”

Mercedes most recently served as policy and engagement strategist for Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez. Prior to that role, she worked for the Low Income Housing Institute as the volunteer and advocacy programs coordinator. She has held positions working with youth and people with developmental disabilities, and served on several nonprofit and governmental boards and committees that support and champion equity and social justice. Mercedes holds a master’s in nonprofit leadership from Seattle University and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology (minor in women and gender studies).

CCC serves about 14,000 people a year through 13 Federally Qualified Health Center sites, 1,753 housing units and an Employment Access Center for jobseekers.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May 2018 Edition

May 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

P: Do you have a background in subsidized housing?

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

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

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

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

P: What did you find so interesting about RCP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.”