Lighting the Way for Healthier Communities: A Whole Person Approach to Recovery

Aug 11, 2020

This year, National Health Center Week is shining a light on the impact of the COVID-19 on our health centers and our communities. Coronavirus has been particularly challenging for people struggling with substance use disorder and people in recovery. For our medical providers and recovery staff, creativity and innovation are more important than ever as we work to meet the needs of our clients and support their recovery.

• • •

Oregon ranks nearly last in the country in access to addiction treatment. Waitlists for treatment can be months long, and treatment is virtually inaccessible in some rural counties. This is one reason why one to two Oregonians die of drug overdoses every day, sometimes while waiting to get treatment.

Substance use disorder is also a key driver of homelessness. At Central City Concern, our goal is to meet people where they are with treatment options that meet their needs. Our comprehensive approach provides critical primary care, housing and employment assistance to help people stay on the path to recovery.

 

Oregon ranks nearly last in the country in access to addiction treatment . . . One to two Oregonians die of drug overdoses every day, sometimes while waiting to get treatment.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a surge in substance use, acute withdrawal, relapse and overdose, as well as challenges for those currently in recovery. For CCC’s medical providers and recovery staff, creativity is more important than ever in meeting the needs of our clients and supporting their recovery.

Lauren Land is CCC’s Associate Medical Director of Primary Care at Old Town Clinic. She's also one of the pioneers of CCC’s Medically Managed Medication Supported Recovery Program, also known as M3. M3 is an office-based opioid treatment program helping those with an opioid use disorder through the use of prescribed buprenorphine (or Suboxone), used to help reduce harm from opioid addiction.

Office-based treatment is one tool in CCC’s toolbox of available substance use disorder programs. It's often a low-barrier window of opportunity for clients to receive recovery support while engaging with other services within CCC.

As a primary care provider, Land has the unique ability to engage across the spectrum of CCC recovery options, allowing her to support the whole person and address their physical, mental and social determinants of health (e.g. housing related issues, access to food, physical environment, etc.). CCC offers one of the most comprehensive arrays of recovery services in the region, including behavioral interventions and supports, medication management, supportive housing, acupuncture, harm reduction, mental health and culturally specific supports. These range from our Hooper Detoxification and Stabilization Center, CCC Recovery Center, and the Recuperative Care Program, to the Old Town Recovery Center, Imani and Letty Owings Center – to name a few.

Our goal is to meet patients wherever they are on their recovery journey.

“I’m so grateful to be able to offer these services to my patients,” said Land. “What makes CCC stand out is the fact that patients can engage with primary care, behavioral health and access our entire spectrum of services. We take a whole person approach, looking at all of the factors affecting a person’s physical and mental health.”

 

Our goal is to meet patients wherever they are on their recovery journey.

 

One of the cornerstones of recovery is human connection. For those in recovery, isolation is one of the biggest challenges of COVID-19 and can increase the urge to use. While in-person groups and one-on-one mentor sessions have been reduced, CCC has responded by providing tele-connections for clients – meetings with recovery mentors and support groups by phone and video. At the same time, CCC continues to offer a full array of onsite services, including medical visits and physically distanced recovery groups. We have a “no-barriers exist” philosophy.

CCC’s recovery staff often say that isolation is the opposite of recovery. That’s why CCC has made a concerted effort to ensure clients maintain connections with their support systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many people in our communities have been living without proper care and stability. At CCC, we’ve stepped up quickly with a rapid response. We want Portlanders to know that help is available, and we're as steadfast as ever in our commitment to supporting people transitioning away from addiction struggles and homelessness.

 



Lighting the Way for Healthier Communities: Around-the-Clock Care Never Stops

Aug 07, 2020

It’s National Health Center Week, an annual opportunity to show appreciation for our patients, our health services staff and our community as we care for one another. Throughout the week, we’re putting the spotlight on the resiliency of our patients and staff in adapting to the reality of COVID-19, and elevating the partnerships, ingenuity and hard work that help us keep our community safe and healthy.

• • •

At three of Central City Concern’s Federally Qualified Health Center sites, caring for patients as they heal and start on the path toward recovery happens around the clock.

Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center, Letty Owings Center and the Recuperative Care Program provide inpatient care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These three programs serve different populations, but each faced similar challenges when it came to safely serving patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hooper Detox provides inpatient treatment for acute withdrawal from addictive substances. Letty Owings Center gives mothers and pregnant women who are recovering from substance use disorder a safe, supportive place to heal with their children. The Recuperative Care Program (RCP), located inside CCC’s Blackburn Center, gives people with serious medical conditions a safe and sanitary place to stay for continued healing once they leave the hospital.

None of these programs could close their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the public health emphasis on limiting face-to-face interactions. Instead, they shared ideas and best practices in order to remain open, installed plexiglass barriers where possible, increased the frequency of sanitization and cleaning, changed how meals were prepared and served, decreased traffic in shared spaces and more.

Since March 1, Hooper Detox has supported more than 900 patients in safely withdrawing from addictive substances and transitioning to long-term treatment.

Together, the programs found ways to increase physical distance – by adding more space between patient beds at Hooper Detox and reducing the number of group counseling sessions at Letty Owings, for example – without sacrificing supportive connections.

And their work has continued.

Since March 1, Hooper Detox has supported more than 900 patients in safely withdrawing from addictive substances and transitioning to long-term treatment. Letty Owings is currently housing 25 women and their children while they take the first steps to transform their lives. RCP hasn’t slowed down either. As the only program of its kind in the state, they have supported the recuperation of nearly 200 clients since March 1 — and they continue to connect patients to stable housing once they have healed.

When new clients arrive at the Recuperative Care Program, they are greeted by friendly faces and private rooms. Having a clean, safe and secure place to recuperate from illness or injury is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Savara, RCP Manager, said that fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for RCP patients, who have histories of mental health challenges, trauma, substance use and homelessness, in addition to their current medical needs.

“For many of our clients at RCP, this is the first time that they can go behind doors that lock. To have that extra layer of security during COVID is so important for their well-being,” Savara said.

Clients at Hooper Detox, Letty Owings and RCP are also assured that if they do develop COVID-like symptoms, they will have a safe place to go.

“Patients get annoyed when we ask about symptoms every day, but they’re reassured too,” said Savara. “They know we’re attuned to their health, and that if they show symptoms, they won’t just be booted out.”

Instead, each program has developed isolation protocols so that patients can safely recover on-site if needed.

The ongoing successes at Hooper Detox, Letty Owings and RCP are dependent on the dedication, diligence and resilience of their staff members.

The ongoing successes at Hooper Detox, Letty Owings and RCP are dependent on the dedication, diligence and resilience of their staff members.

“We’re navigating this together, tending to our clients and to one another. I have so much respect for the folks here,” said Savara. For the patients working toward recovery and self-sufficiency at each of these programs, that culture of mutual support has never been more important.



Spreading the Human Connection

May 04, 2020

Six months ago, Ralph was addicted to meth and alcohol and running out of chances with his family. Today, he’s in recovery and making face shields for local hospital workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Ralph had tried hospital-based detoxification programs in the past, but they never stuck. The game-changer was Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program and his treatment counselor, Robert (Bobby) Tsow.

“Without CCC, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Ralph said. “I’d be in jail or I’d be dead.”

The process for Ralph started at CCC’s Hooper Detoxification and Stabilization Center, where he spent ten days withdrawing from meth and alcohol while receiving around-the-clock care. From there, a peer mentor drove Ralph directly to CCC’s Madrona Studios, a supportive housing program where he would live while completing intensive outpatient therapy through the CCC Recovery Center.

For the next four months, Ralph would work hard toward recovery – this time, with the long-term support he had been missing in his past experiences with detoxification and sobriety.

Ralph checked in with his program mentor every day, participated in support groups and attended daily meetings of Narcotics Anonymous. He received primary care treatment at Old Town Clinic, mental health therapy and regular sessions with his counselor, Bobby. He did homework and developed new tools for coping with anger, stress and thoughts of using. He found purpose through the CCC Community Volunteer Corps, which let him give back to the community after feeling like a “taker” for so long.


Then the coronavirus pandemic put an end to in-person meetings and gatherings, risking the social connections that had been foundational to Ralph’s recovery. But CCC developed new plans and protocols to adapt to the unprecedented situation, ensuring that the networks of support that clients like Ralph rely on would remain strong.

Most of Ralph’s counseling sessions with Bobby moved to the phone instead of face-to-face, and his regular recovery meetings changed as well. But Ralph also had a phone list of supporters to call on, a mentor, Zoom meetings – in addition to the groundwork he had already laid. He didn’t feel alone.

“The Recovery Mentor Program gave me all the tools I needed to stay in contact,” said Ralph.

When Ralph graduated from treatment in April, he had a quiet ceremony with just Bobby present. But he still felt proud. He knew he’d met a big goal.

Bobby was proud of Ralph, too. “He was hungry for recovery and a new way of living – open, teachable and willing,” Bobby said.

“The Recovery Mentor Program gave me all the tools I needed to stay in contact.”

After his graduation, Ralph shared that he was looking for a job, and a fellow member of the program made a connection for him. He worked with an Employment Specialist at CCC’s Employment Access Center to put together a professional resume – and he landed the position. Now, Ralph works the nightshift at a company producing face shields for front line hospital workers.

“I’m in a position to reach out and help others,” he said. It feels good when he returns home to his apartment after work.

Thanks to CCC’s dedicated staff and compassionate donors, Ralph has been able to stay on the path to long-term recovery during this time of turmoil. “I have my life back,” said Ralph.


When you make a donation to our COVID-19 Emergency Fund, you are giving the gift of human connection to individuals transitioning away from homelessness and addiction. With your support, we are strengthening the bonds that will keep us all connected through COVID-19 and beyond. Please make a gift today.



Attendees Put Compassion into Action at Annual Luncheon

Oct 18, 2019

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Central City Concern (CCC) held our annual Compassion In Action fundraising luncheon at the Hilton Portland Downtown. This year, CCC used the opportunity to celebrate not only all that is possible when community members work together to bring lasting change to people in need, but also four decades of helping people find home, hope and healing.

With a blast of horns, Portland-based 12-piece funk and soul band Soul Vaccination kicked off the day’s program, performing their hit song “Funk P-Town” with several lyrics altered to celebrate CCC’s 40th anniversary.

CCC President and CEO Rachel Solotaroff then took the stage, thanking elected officials in attendance; the event’s Presenting, Home of Our Own and Ready to Work sponsors; and several corporate partners who have generously given to CCC for more than 20 years.

Rachel went on to speak about a concept that is vital to the staff members, clients and the very spirit of CCC: resilience. She shared that resilience “isn’t something people are born with. It’s something people are given, and they are given it through human connection.”

“Resilience requires relationships, not rugged individualism,” Rachel continues. “We are not the survival of the fittest. We are the survival of the nurtured.”

“Resilience requires relationships, not rugged individualism."

G. Robert (Bobby) Watts, CEO of National Health Care for the Homeless Council, served as the luncheon’s keynote speaker. Bobby tapped into the deep familiarity with CCC’s work that he’s developed as the leader of the nation’s preeminent membership organization of homeless health care organizations, people with lived experience of homelessness and advocates. CCC is, Bobby said, “doing some things that no one else is doing and they are doing some things better than most others are doing. We, as a council, are going to rely on them.”

Bobby then pivoted to speaking about homelessness as a national epidemic. He shared that our collective hope and goal should be moving toward “compassionate justice”: a society that not only sees housing and health care as human rights, but provides them as such. Our path toward that goal consists of doing what we know works: affordable housing and housing subsidies, health care to people experiencing homelessness, supportive housing, medical respite, practicing a Housing First approach, trauma-informed care, harm reduction and addressing racism.

The audience was treated to the premiere of “40 Years of Hope and Healing: The Human Connection,” a video feature that showed the transformative ripple effect of making human connection through the stories of two long-time CCC employees, Bobby T. and Medina. (Watch the video for yourself at the end of the post.)

     

Stacey Dodson, market president at U.S. Bank, followed the video to make the pitch. Before she began her ask, however, she shared about her intimate connection to the devastation that addiction can ravage on families, making the work of CCC all the more vital to our community.

Soul Vaccination closed the program with three more songs, including a raucous version of Earth Wind & Fire’s “September.”

In total, CCC’s 2019 Compassion In Action campaign raised over $290,000.

 



CCC Walks for Recovery

Oct 01, 2019

Central City Concern (CCC) wrapped up National Recovery Month on a powerful note this past Saturday, Sept. 28, at the second annual Walk for Recovery, where members of the Portland recovery community and their families united to improve Oregon’s fractured and incomplete addiction recovery system.

CCC staff and clients, along with their friends, family and hundreds of other community members and organizations, took part in the two-mile walk from southwest to northwest Portland, which felt more like a political march than a fundraising event. Key legislators and decision makers helped kick off the walk at an opening rally, sharing words of encouragement to participants about why mobilizing to address addiction is so important. Representatives from Oregon Recovers, which organized the Walk for Recovery, emphasized the goal of building a movement of people in recovery in order to drive widespread support for addiction prevention and treatment across Oregon.

During the walk, as participants passed by multiple addiction treatment and help centers — including CCC’s own CCC Recovery Center, Imani Center and Old Town Recovery Center programs — they proudly help up hand-made signs with messages of encouragement to those in recovery and calls to action for elected officials to increase access to treatment.

One of the largest contingents at the Walk for Recovery was made up of staff, clients and alumni of Puentes, CCC’s culturally specific recovery program for Spanish speakers. Ricardo Verdeguez, a recovery mentor and drug and alcohol counselor at Puentes, highlighted a significant barrier in recovery services: the lack of Spanish-language treatment programs.

"Today I have a life and I have a family because I am in recovery."

“After 30 years of battling addiction, there was no treatment for me as a third-generation Latino,” Ricardo shared during his speech at the Walk for Recovery rally. “I found treatment with Central City Concern and I’m grateful, because they have culturally specific treatment. Today I have a life and I have a family because I am in recovery.”

Puentes’ large presence at the Walk for Recovery was fitting, where increasing access to recovery services was a reoccurring theme. Oregon ranks 50th in the country — last place — in access to treatment. Puentes has worked hard to welcome Portland’s Spanish-speakers into a culturally responsive community where things like language, country of origin and documentation status are not barriers to beginning and maintaining a life in recovery. While much work remains in breaking barriers to preventing and treating addiction, we are proud to serve the Latino recovery community through our Puentes program.

With hundreds of Portlanders in attendance and over $100,000 raised to improve Oregon’s addiction recovery system, the Walk for Recovery was a success that CCC was thrilled to be a part of. While National Recovery Month might be over, our work to bring hope and healing to those struggling with addiction continues with the same determination and fire we witnessed during the weekend’s events.



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.



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.



"Transformation" Mural Brings the CCC Story to Life

Jul 30, 2019

The mural is located in the second floor lobby of Blackburn Center.Baba Wagué Diakité fills in a pattern. Portland artist Kendra Larson assisted Wagué throughout the project.Ronna Neuenschwander, a professional artist represented by Froelick Gallery and Wagué's wife, worked by his side and was a constant presence throughout the entire mural project.

"Transformation" is a wall-length mural in CCC's Blackburn Center, designed and painted by Baba Wagué Diakité, and partially funded by Regional Arts and Culture Council. The mural is based on the stories of CCC clients and staff. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.


The walk up the steps from the main lobby of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Blackburn Center to the second floor is an exercise in slow revelation. “Transformation,” a new mural created for Blackburn Center by renowned Portland artist Baba Wagué Diakité, is positioned at the top of the stairs to meet all visitors — less a gatekeeper and more a welcoming party.

Upon the very first stretch of the upper floor wall that comes into view, it takes a second to register the figure of a vibrantly colored tree, evaporating any expectation of a sterile, sparse waiting room. Your eyes can’t help but trace left to follow the procession of animals large and small, winged, scaled and legged. Bright music notes pop out from what you quickly realize is a mostly black and white, wall-length mural of a fantastical scene framed in earthy gold.

As you reach the top of the steps and approach the wall, you notice the impossibly intricate patterns that fill in the animal outlines. Only now do you find a mandala of words: “hope,” “caring,” “journey” and “joy,” among others. And as much as you want to press your nose up to it, you feel similarly pulled to take several steps back to take the entire mural in at once.

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

Months before Wagué first laid his brush to the wall, CCC Art Task Force volunteer Alice McCartor came across a Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grant intended to support projects that invite the community to participate, including underserved communities. With the Art Task Force — an all-volunteer group of community members who procure donations of and curate fine art to beautify CCC buildings — already in the thick of procuring art for Blackburn Center, Alice immediately saw a golden opportunity.

“I thought a mural here could be a good match because RACC makes an effort to bring art to the public in multiple ways,” Alice shared. “I could envision many people walking into the clinic — people who don’t have easy access to galleries or the museum — and being able to see fine art in a mural.”

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

The rest of the Art Task Force agreed and began discussing local artists whose style and experience would be right for such a project. Wagué, whose work and reputation as a writer, illustrator, ceramicist and muralist is eclipsed only by his truest artistic identity as a storyteller, quickly became the group’s first choice.

Growing up in Mali, Africa, the power and magic of stories settled deep into Wagué’s bones as he listened to stories told by his grandmother and village elders. These stories often depicted animals as the characters to represent our human foibles, our strengths and our resiliency.

As an established artist, he developed a storytelling program called “What’s Standing on Your Soul?” that allows participants to exchange ideas based on their own lives. What better person, what better way, to bring to life a mural based on and in CCC’s community of clients who receive support to find stability and wellness, as well as the staff who offer that help?

“I first learned of CCC’s work when an artwork of mine was donated to the organization’s Healing Through Art collection a few years back,” Wagué shared. “I was absolutely humbled when I was approached about this project.” A few months later, RACC notified CCC that they would award the grant for a mural project.

CCC arranged three sessions for Wagué to facilitate his workshop: the first for a group of Old Town Clinic patients, the second for a group of CCC staff members and the last for staff members specifically from CCC’s Eastside Concern program, which would soon be absorbed into Blackburn Center to provide substance use disorder counseling and peer support services.

Over the course of a few hours, Wagué shared about storytelling’s capacity to connect and challenge, recounted stories he’d heard growing up in Mali and set the stage for participants to share stories based in their own experiences.

“It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of that,” shared Zibby, an Old Town Clinic patient. “To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

Though a skilled facilitator, Wagué knew that participants would have to meet him halfway to fully unlock the power of storytelling. “They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish, but I would have never learned any of that without them trusting me. So I’m grateful,” he says. “It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be. That really stuck out to me.”

"It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of [the storytelling sessions]. To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

At each session, Wagué was accompanied by his wife, Ronna Neuenschwander, an accomplished and well-known artist in her own right. She listened alongside Wagué, documenting phrases and narratives the participants shared. After the workshops, Wagué and Ronna reviewed her notes, identifying themes that emerged across the conversations. Then he got to work translating the collective story of CCC staff and clients into imagery steeped in Malian traditions.

“I focused on the positive direction people want to shape their lives toward, such as ‘being well and doing well in life,’ ‘being able to trust again,’ and ‘helping others so they will not experience what I went through.’

“Some things we heard are represented by words, others are represented with images of favorite animals and scenes of nature that have helped them through hard times.”

The resulting design was a sprawling, 30-feet by 10-feet mural, as bold in its entirety as it is delicate in its individual elements. Creatures of all kinds march, fly or catch a ride on others toward a lizard playing music.

“I wanted to include animals that are metaphors for the stories that they shared: in my culture, Elephant represents strength, Turtle represents courage and endurance, Hippo is the symbol of large vision, Birds are symbols of knowledge, Lizard represents welcoming and happiness,” Wagué explains. “All of them are carrying others on their backs, symbolizing diversity and acceptance. The bird’s nest shows nurturing and caring. The baobab tree carried on the back of the tortoise is the sturdy and long-living tree of life.”

Transferring the design on paper to the wall was a month-long endeavor that, like the best of stories, took a few unforeseen turns. Wagué and Ronna worked side by side nearly every day in June. They initially invited one other Portland artist, Kendra Larson, who wanted to learn about mural painting techniques.

“They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish.... It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be.”

As the weeks passed, many others came along to help, delightfully mirroring the caravan of creatures in the mural itself. Ronna recounts, “One of Kendra’s students was interested in helping, so he joined. Construction workers and electricians and CCC’s own tech people would comment on the job daily, explaining our mural to us as it progressed. Then they began asking if they could paint a little spot in the mural. We felt honored that they had taken on ownership of the mural and wanted to leave a visual mark of their hand in the building.”

Blackburn Center staff — in the building to prepare for the start of services— popped by between meetings and tasks, eager to fill in a pattern here, widen a line there. CCC’s Art Task Force volunteers joined in, too. Wagué hadn’t set out for the painting to be a totally communal task, but he and Ronna readily embraced it. “Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

No Blackburn Center staff member would take credit for more than the tiniest contribution, but the opportunity to make a mark colored how they view their own experience at the new program.

“Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

“I painted one tiny orange circle and one tiny blue circle,” says Lydia Bartholow, Blackburn Center’s Associate Director of Behavioral Health. “But painting these circles felt very much to me like my involvement in the overall Blackburn project: there was a larger vision that centered the stories of our clients, and I was lucky enough to get to contribute to something much larger and more beautiful than myself.”

Dalando Vance, a peer case manager for Blackburn Center Apartments, shares, “I felt a great deal of gratitude. Even though the part I painted was super small, I got a feeling of empowerment and togetherness.”

Wagué made his final dabs and strokes on June 28. Since then, scores of staff members, clients and community partners have stopped in their tracks in the second floor lobby, pausing to interpret the images for themselves. Often, what they hear is their own story spoken back.

Alice, the Art Task Force volunteer who first set this project in motion, couldn’t be more pleased. “Wagué's story-telling process, his resulting design and his welcoming of all comers to share in painting the mural is just what we hoped for — a joyous reflection of the healing process at CCC for and by clients and staff.”