NHCW 2017: Serving a population where they live

Aug 18, 2017

On September 23, 2016, leaders from six Portland health organization gathered at Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center to announce an unprecedented $21.5 million dollar investment in the Housing is Health initiative that will fund three new CCC buildings in Portland. The crown jewel of this shining trio is the Eastside Campus, which will serve medically fragile people and people recovering from substance use disorders and mental illness with a health care clinic and 172 housing units.

“This significant contribution is an excellent example of health organizations coming together for the common good of our community,” said Ed Blackburn, CCC president and CEO. “It also represents a transformational recognition that housing for lower income working people, including those who have experienced homelessness, is critical to the improvement of health outcomes."

Each floor is designed to foster healthy peer relationships, with vibrant common spaces where residents, supported by CCC staff, can build community.

CCC will break ground on the Eastside Campus in late October 2017. The center will build on CCC’s existing Eastside Concern program, and will offer integrated housing and clinical services, including substance use disorder treatment, primary care and urgent care. More than 3,000 CCC patients each year will access care in a unique and welcoming health home environment.

The housing portion of the Eastside Campus will have about 172 units of housing, including short-term medical stabilization and palliative beds as well as transitional housing for people in recovery from behavioral health disorders. Each floor is designed to foster healthy peer relationships, with vibrant common spaces where residents, supported by CCC staff, can build community.

“It’s important to serve people where they live."

“It’s important to serve people where they live,” said Blackburn. “This project will replicate the integrated care we give at our Old Town campus to help people get back on their feet and achieve health and self-sufficiency.”

The Housing is Health initiative is supported by Adventist Heath Portland, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, OHSU and Providence Health & Services. The new construction includes the Eastside Campus, Stark Street Apartments and Charlotte B. Rutherford Place apartments on N Interstate.

The CCC Eastside Campus is scheduled to open in Winter 2019.



NHCW 2017: Adapting the system to work for our most complex patients

Aug 17, 2017

Central City Concern's Summit team takes care of our Old Town Clinic's most complex and medically fragile patients. Instead of expecting patients to fit into a health care system, the Summit team adapts the system to work for them by offering flexible scheduling, around-the-clock availability, and even home visits. Like many of the programs we've featured during National Health Center Week so far, the Summit team goes above and beyond to break barriers and narrow the gaps that keep vulnerable individuals from becoming as well and healthy as they can be.

We're so excited to share this video about Summit with you, which features Summit team staff and several Summit patients talking about what sets this program apart and how it impacts the lives of those it serves. A version of this video was originally shown at the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference in June.




NHCW 2017: Starting primary care engagement outside clinic walls

Aug 16, 2017

There are few professions in the world that call on you to do your job in an RV, but that’s where Catherine Hull found herself a few weeks ago, helping the person who lived inside fill out intake paperwork. If she minds the odd working environment, she certainly doesn’t show it. After all, her role as Central City Concern’s Community Health Outreach Worker (CHOW) has also taken her under bridges and overpasses, into day centers and shelters, and onto most of the streets that form downtown Portland.

“My days are almost always pretty uncertain. A lot of the time, I get a phone call or an email and I’m off to respond at the drop of a hat,” she says. “Once I get to where I’m needed, I can help people figure out the different needs they have.”

CCC’s CHOW program was originally created partly in response to the difficulty of phone outreach to individuals who, though insured, weren’t engaging with our Old Town Clinic or any other primary care clinic, often leaving chronic health conditions unmanaged. Rather, these folks were utilizing the emergency room or acute care services at high rates for needs that could have been taken care of, and even avoided, with a primary care provider.

These potential patients—most unhoused or low-income—didn’t need reminders; they needed relationships to enter into and navigate a health care world that was as confusing as it was untrustworthy.

Calling people wasn’t enough. These potential patients—most unhoused or low-income—didn’t need reminders; they needed relationships to enter into and navigate a health care world that was as confusing as it was untrustworthy. So Catherine started hitting the pavement.

Hospitals contact Catherine when an emergency room patient who they had previously referred to the Old Town Clinic for primary care shows up again and again. Community members phone get in touch when they feel compelled to help someone on the street they see every day. CCC programs like Hooper Detox call her when a patient needs to establish a primary care provider in order to be referred to other programs. As long as there’s someone to meet, she goes.

Through it all, Catherine practices profound empathy. While following through on a primary care appointment may seem like a small task to many, she understands—and hears firsthand—what stands in the way.

“Patients typically have to wait a few weeks after their initial intake to see a provider, and that can clearly be frustrating when we’re asking them to take charge of their health,” Catherine says. “A lot of the time their primary concern isn’t primary care at all; it’s their substance use disorder or mental health or the simple fact that they don’t have a home.”

Lack of transportation, sleep deprivation, fear of being judged by a doctor, and a feeling of stuck in their situation place additional barriers to engaging with primary care. Catherine listens and then does what she can to help each person inch closer to primary care. She performs intakes on the spot, ensuring that the individual can see a provider even sooner. She hands out bus tickets, offers assurances that our care providers truly have heard it all before and are not in the business of judging, and true to her self-given title of “the queen of resources,” offers information that can be of any further help.

“It’s understandable that if someone doesn’t know where they’re sleeping each night, a clinic appointment two weeks from now won’t be at the top of their mind. So we’ll make a plan to look for each other on 4th Ave. every day to check in until the day of the appointment,” she says. “I’m hoping to bring what little bit of the clinic I can take with me to where they are.”

In addition to responding to calls and emails, Catherine holds hours twice a week at CCC’s Bud Clark Acute Care Clinic, which treats acute issues as a bridge until patients feel ready to engage with a primary care home. When a patient feels ready, Catherine is there to seize the moment.

“The ability of our patients to access care has improved markedly by having Catherine do her outreach,” says Pat Buckley, a provider who splits her time between Bud Clark Clinic and Old Town Clinic. “She facilitates people who desperately need to get into a primary care environment very quickly. CHOW’s been an amazing adjunct to CCC’s practice.”

“I’m hoping to bring what little bit of the clinic I can take with me to where they are.”

Catherine is aware that the CHOW program won’t result in every person she sees engaging with primary care, but she remains hopeful for each person she meets.

“Of course my goal is to get them excited about primary care, but if I can at least get them to start thinking about it, I’ll take it. I’ll keep trying as hard as I can to help them understand that primary care is a good thing to do, but I’ll always be understanding that there are so many things in the way.”

Until then, Catherine will continue going to where the people who don’t think they’re quite ready for primary care are. An RV one day, an underpass the next, and maybe an ER bed later. All of it is worthwhile as long as the people she meets get closer to setting foot inside Old Town Clinic.



NHCW 2017: Breaking down the walls between housing & health

Aug 15, 2017

While he waited for his name to rise to the top of the Central City Concern housing wait list, Glenn O. lived out of his van in northwest Portland. As he walked back to where he had last parked, he found his van stolen. Gone. And with it, all his possessions, including his dentures.

Not long after, he moved into CCC housing. But even with a roof over his head, his troubles weren’t over. The doctor he had begun seeing wanted him to eat healthier, but without dentures, the list of foods he could eat was short. What he could eat, and how he ate them, led to intestinal problems and months of feeling sick and uncomfortable.

He called his insurance to see if they would cover new dentures. After all, they were stolen, not carelessly lost. They said that they could only cover new dentures once every 10 years. He’d only had his dentures for three.

Glenn went back to gumming his food, feeling unhealthy, and going against his doctor’s orders.

• • •

Moving into Central City Concern permanent housing is often reason enough for our new residents to feel good about their trajectory. The assurance of having a roof over one’s head feels like a giant step forward toward something better. Indeed, we know that having housing is one of the most significant determinants of health, so becoming a resident of CCC housing is definitely an occasion to cheer.

However, being housed isn’t a guarantee that better health is on the horizon. Even for residents of CCC housing, especially those with more complex health care needs, successfully engaging with CCC’s health care services—or any health care services, for that matter—can feel like a world away. The connection between housing and health care is crucial: how well a resident's health needs are met is tied closely to a resident’s likelihood of successfully staying in housing, says Dana Schultz, Central City Concern’s Permanent Supportive Housing Manager.

Though CCC provides both housing and health care, the nature of the programs, as well as privacy considerations, have traditionally made it difficult to share information between the two areas of service. But where Dana saw walls, she also saw an opportunity. The situation called for a way to put teeth behind a core belief that housing is health. That way? A program called Housed and Healthy (H+H).

"Our supportive housing program realized that we can’t distance ourselves from our residents’ health—it’s everything to them and it’s everything to us."

“We started Housed and Healthy as an initiative to better support our residents’ health by engaging with them where they are: in our housing,” Dana says. “Our supportive housing program realized that we can’t distance ourselves from our residents’ health—it’s everything to them and it’s everything to us.”

The Housed and Healthy program serves to improve the connection between health clinics—be it CCC’s own Old Town Clinic and Old Town Recovery Center or other community providers—and CCC’s supportive housing program, and vice versa. Since H+H started, all new residents of CCC’s permanent housing are given a health assessment so that staff can gain a fuller picture of the new tenant. They are asked about their health insurance status, any chronic health conditions they may be dealing with, and who, if anyone, their primary care provider is.

Perhaps most importantly, new residents are asked to sign a release of information, which unlocks the line of communication between CCC’s housing and health service programs.

“Once the two program areas can start talking, we can immediately map out a web of support,” says Dana. “Our clinic can flag the resident’s electronic health record to show that they live in our housing and note who their resident service coordinator is in case they need their help reaching out to a patient. In turn, our resident service coordinators can know which providers and clinics their tenants are connected to in case health issues arise.”

Housed and Healthy represents a big shift in the way supportive housing sees its role in the well-being of its residents. Housing staff are integral to extending health care out from the clinic setting into where their patients live.

The health assessment can also help H+H coordinators identify potential issues—related to their physical or mental health, or to substance use disorder—that, if unaddressed, could result in a resident losing their housing because of violations that put the safety and peace of the rest of the housing community at risk.

“In the past, we’ve seen people not succeed in our housing for reasons that, in retrospect, were preventable,” she says. “If we know what to look out for and the team of support people we can coordinate with, we can put out fires before they really burn down a person’s entire life.”

Housed and Healthy represents a big shift in the way supportive housing sees its role in the well-being of its residents. Housing staff are integral to extending health care out from the clinic setting into where their patients live. H+H even brings opportunities for health education, such as chronic pain workshops and classes like Cooking Matters, straight to residents. In doing so, the chances that patients continue to have a place to live increase.

Glenn, who had seen Dana in his building frequently as part of her work as the H+H Coordinator, approached her about his denture problem. His issues didn’t put him at high risk of losing his housing yet, but he wanted to follow his doctor’s eating advice. He was, after all, nearly three years sober, and he wanted to continue feeling healthier.

She promised him that she’d look into it. She consulted with Glenn’s Old Town Clinic care team. She researched resources and made countless phone calls. Several weeks later, she gave Glenn the best news he’d received since learning that he had his own CCC apartment: she found a city program that would cover nearly the entire cost of new dentures.

“Dana did all the work I didn’t know how to do. The questions she asked me sounded like she knew a lot about what I needed,” Glenn says. “Now that I have dentures again, oh yeah, I feel healthier now. I’m so grateful to her.”

While Housed and Healthy is ostensibly a housing program, it functions as a way to not only expose residents to the many ways to better health, but as a de facto arm of health services that can reach into where their patients live. Gaps in care get caught and filled; residents are supported in better utilizing health care services; and people like Glenn find trustworthy faces to bring health-related concerns.

“Our housing staff want to see our residents healthier; health care providers want to see their patients housed,” Dana says. “It just makes sense.”



Introducing CCC's new President & CEO, Rachel Solotaroff, M.D.

Aug 14, 2017

Rachel Solotaroff, M.D. has been named new President & CEO for Central City Concern (CCC), a major provider of housing, health care and employment support to people experiencing homelessness in Portland, Oregon. The role will be effective at the end of September 2017.

Rachel has been working with CCC since 2006, first as CCC’s and Old Town Clinic’s Medical Director and as Chief Medical Officer since 2014. She has been a member of CCC’s Executive Leadership Team since November 2014. During her time at CCC, Rachel has overseen inpatient and outpatient alcohol and drug treatment, primary care and mental health care. She has developed key strategic initiatives and stakeholder partnerships to respond to community needs and has championed data-driven models of care for specific populations, from expansion of treatment for homeless people with opioid use disorder to an advanced medical home for medically complex homeless individuals.

In her leadership of Old Town Clinic, she secured national recognition from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's LEAP project as one of the 30 highest-performing clinics in the United States, as well as achieving recognition as an NCQA Tier 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home. In 2014, Rachel received the Karen Rotondo Outstanding Service Award from the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council.

In addition to her work at CCC, Rachel was Assistant Professor at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) from 2007 to 2014. She has also worked as a staff physician from 2004 to 2006 at the Portland VA Medical Center. Rachel earned her BA from Brown University and her medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School.

“There is no greater honor than serving as the leader of such an extraordinary organization as Central City Concern,” said Rachel. “I am humbled and excited to partner with our staff, clients, stakeholders and community members to advance our collective mission of ending homelessness in our community.”

Central City Concern’s board and staff worked with a recruiting company in an exhaustive, national talent search for its new leader; the search attracted more than 300 inquiries. “While we always knew that CCC had top talent, it was an illuminating experience to have this knowledge vetted and confirmed by a rigorous, national process,” said CCC Board of Director’s Chair, William Wiechmann. “The board is confident about Rachel’s ability to lead the agency in an evolving health care landscape, oversee the building of nearly 400 units of new housing and guide the expansion of the organization’s employment services.”

Ed Blackburn, Central City Concern’s leader since 2008, will move to an Emeritus President & CEO status. He will assist with leadership transition and will work to complete the organization’s $3.5 million capital campaign related to three housing projects. Ed’s 25 years of service to Central City Concern will be honored at the organization’s annual Compassion in Action luncheon on October 10 at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower.

“I have had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with Rachel for 11-some years,” said Ed. “She has consistently demonstrated a remarkable devotion to our mission, a highly intelligent approach to organizational development, a special ability to communicate to a diversity of people and a truly impressive work ethic. I enthusiastically support the Board's decision in selecting Rachel as the new President & CEO of CCC.”

CCC was founded in 1979 and helps nearly 14,000 people yearly. It employs approximately 900 people and has an annual budget of more than $80 million. It is a Federally Qualified Health Center, providing primary, behavioral and substance use disorder care across 13 locations in the metro area. It also owns/manages more than 1,700 units of affordable housing with nearly 400 additional units in development. Its employment services help roughly 1,000 people gain jobs each year. Learn more at www.centralcityconcern.org.

Click here to read a recent Oregonian interview with Ed as he reflects on the history of homelessness and his 25 years of service to CCC.



NHCW 2017: A clean safe resting place with a dedicated staff

Aug 14, 2017

Central City Concern’s Sobering Station for people incapacitated by alcohol or drugs might not sound like an uplifting place, but there is plenty to love about it. “My favorite part is getting to know people and hearing their stories,” says Amanda Guevara, program director. She has worked for CCC for 11 years and is dedicated to helping people in the community.

“We have return visitors,” she says, “and when they decide to make a change, we can be a part of it.”

Sobering visitors range from repeat visitors to weekend warriors.... Last year, the CHIERS van conducted 1,128 street assessments, and 3,757 people were admitted into sobering.

The Sobering Station in inner-southeast Portland takes people who need a safe place to come down from drinking too much alcohol or taking too many drugs. The Portland Police Bureau or community members refer people in need. The Central City Concern Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service (CHIERS) van picks people up and transports them to the Sobering Station where they receive an assessment from a medical professional. Anyone can call for the CHIERS van (503-238-8132, 1:45-11:45 pm) to pick up someone on the street who is incapacitated, and the van also roams the streets looking for people who may need help.

Sobering visitors range from repeat visitors to weekend warriors. PDX airport often calls for travelers who have had too much to drink, and Portland police refer people who have not done anything illegal, but need a safe place to sober up. Last year, the CHIERS van conducted 1,128 street assessments, and 3,757 people were admitted into sobering. 

Once someone is admitted into sobering, they get a medical assessment, a clean place to rest and referral to additional resources. But mostly, they receive a level of caring that only a dedicated staff can provide.

“I like knowing there is a population we help and know best,” says Kevin Smith, Sobering Station supervisor. “They know us—these are our people.” Kevin says he likes being able to offer resources and problem solve for people. The Sobering Station staff sometimes washes visitors’ clothes, provide hygiene kits and shoes, and even cut hair and apply lice treatments. “We see some people regularly,” says Kevin, who has worked for CCC for seven years. “We know what they need.”

“We’re here for people who may have burned bridges. We’re here for people who have nowhere else to go.”

The Sobering Station also does anything it can to serve the community at the street level. In the summer, the CHIERS van staff passes out water and sunscreen; in winter, hats, gloves and hot soup. On extremely bitter nights, volunteer crews make the rounds after hours and give people rides to shelters. The Sobering Station building sometimes opens as a warming shelter. In Sept. 2017, CCC will unveil a new CHIERS van with updated features that will ensure safe and comfortable transport for people going to the Sobering Station.

“We’re here for people who may have burned bridges,” says Amanda. “We’re here for people who have nowhere else to go.”

• • •

Download a card as a handy reminder of how to contact the CHIERS van in case you see someone in need.



CCC Celebrates National Health Center Week 2017!

Aug 14, 2017

Happy National Health Center Week from Central City Concern!

The health center movement was born during a time of extraordinary challenge, opportunity, and innovation in the United States. Today, as we face threats to the Affordable Care Act, a HUD budget proposal that would reduce housing subsidies by more than $900 million nationwide, and crises like the opioid epidemic and Portland’s housing affordability crisis, I find myself reflecting on our predecessors in the good fight for health care, housing, and equal opportunity and against poverty, homelessness, and oppression. We have a long way to go, but I take heart in recognizing how far we’ve come in the past fifty years.

Today, one in fifteen members of our community receive their care at a federally qualified health center. Here in Oregon, almost all of our FQHCs are designated by the state health authority as patient-centered primary care homes, meaning that they meet six core performance standards (access to care, accountability, comprehensiveness, continuity, coordination and integration, and patient and family-centered) that support positive patient outcomes, good experience of and access to care, and cost control and sustainability. Just a few weeks ago, we at CCC were thrilled to have our Old Town Clinic recognized as a Tier 5 patient-centered primary care home, achieving the highest level of recognition possible in the state. Being homeless or low-income in Portland doesn’t mean receiving substandard care: we should feel deep pride as a community that our most vulnerable friends and neighbors have access to excellent care through our health centers.

Along with providing high-quality, sustainable, accessible care, health centers like Central City Concern also partner closely with other social services providers and health care organizations. At CCC, we bring together health, housing, and jobs under one organizational roof, and we also rely on and treasure our relationships with community partners, who enable us to reach far more people than we would on our own. At the Bud Clark Commons, we partner with Home Forward, Transition Projects, Inc., and others to provide urgent care, mental health, and case management services to homeless and formerly homeless Portlanders. At our Puentes program, which provides culturally and linguistically specific behavioral health care to Portland’s Latino community, our close partnership with El Programa Hispano Católico enables us to bring care into places where the community already gathers. And across our continuum of substance use disorder services, we’re partnering closely with our friends at CODA, Inc., and Health Share of Oregon to develop and implement Wheelhouse, a hub-and-spoke model of care that will enhance access to medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid use disorders. When homeless and low-income Portlanders access services through Central City Concern, they’re tapping into a much larger network of support both within CCC and with our partners.

This year, in keeping with National Health Center Week 2017’s theme of Celebrating America’s Health Centers: The Key to Healthier Communities, we wanted to share some of the ways in which CCC, together with many partners, works to bring high-quality care into our surrounding community by extending our work past clinic walls and directly to where people are. You’ll learn about how our programs work to improve access, outcomes, and sustainability to support the people we serve and our larger community. We may still have a way to go, but we’re going together.

Leslie Tallyn
Chief Clinical Operations Officer



CCC Breaks Ground on New 51-unit Family Housing Community

Aug 03, 2017

On Wednesday, August 2, Central City Concern (CCC) broke ground on the first of three buildings in the Housing is Health initiative—a pioneering commitment from local hospitals and health systems in supportive, affordable housing. CCC also announced the name of the building—Charlotte B. Rutherford Place—which honors one of Portland’s pioneering African American families and their impact on the entire community.

Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Providence Health & Services - Oregon Regional Chief Executive Dave Underriner, KeyBank Key Community Development Corporation Vice President Beth Palmer Wirtz and the Honorable Charlotte Rutherford spoke.

The 51-unit apartment building (34 one-bedroom and 17 two-bedroom units) is part of the City of Portland’s N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy to address displacement and gentrification in the historic neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland by prioritizing longtime or displaced residents with ties to the community for new affordable housing opportunities in the area.

Hon. Charlotte Rutherford is a community activist and former civil rights attorney, journalist, administrative law judge and entrepreneur. Her parents, Otto G. Rutherford and Verdell Burdine, were major figures in Portland’s Black civil rights struggle. Her father was president and her mother was secretary of Portland’s NAACP chapter in the 1950s, and they played an important role in passing the 1953 Oregon Civil Rights Bill. Her grandfather, William, ran a barbershop in the Golden West Hotel—now a CCC residential building—and Otto worked there as well. Charlotte still lives in Portland’s Albina District, in the same house in which she grew up.

     

"I'm so honored to accept this for the entire Rutherford family, especially my mom and dad," Ms. Rutherford said.

Charlotte Rutherford Place major contributors include KeyBank, Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services and the Housing is Health coalition of six health organizations: Adventist Health Portland, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, OHSU and Providence Health & Services - Oregon.

“The Housing is Health contribution is an excellent example of health care organizations coming together for the common good of our community. Housing for lower income working people is critical to the improvement of health outcomes.” said Ed Blackburn, CCC president and CEO. “This housing will remain affordable for generations and it couldn’t come at a better time.”

The design and development team is Home First, the architect is Doug Circosta and the builder is Silco Construction. CCC is engaged in a $3.5 million capital campaign to complete funding for three buildings that will all break ground by the end of October.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: July 2017 Edition

Jul 28, 2017

For our latest monthly volunteer spotlight, we’re delighted to feature Jack Ramsey, who volunteers in not just one, but two, roles with Central City Concern! Read our Volunteer Manager’s interview with Jack to find out how his past professional career informs one of his volunteer roles, as well as how his second role has shaped and enriched his life today.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Jack: Jack Ramsey and I have two roles. I volunteer over at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and my job there is to just kind of generally help out, to chat with clients, and become part of that operation. That includes anything from washing dishes to making sandwiches. Mostly what I do is talk with folks and I’ve been doing it about nine months now I think. I feel like I’ve made friends there. If there’s a week that I can’t be there because I’m out of town, I miss them. I’ve really learned a lot from those guys. About myself, about the kinds of people that you see on the streets. People that are homeless and suffering from mental illness, addiction, they’re kind of superheroes to me, because they’re able to deal with those issues and really improve their lives.

The other is that I’m a member of the Marketing Advisory Council and what I bring to the party there is 40 years of work doing advertising and marketing.

P: I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

J: Well, I got in to marketing because I could write. I worked for a couple of computer companies down in California, ended being an ad manager for one of them, and then I was recruited in 1976 by a small advertising agency in Silicon Valley that just happened to have as its main client a young company by the name of Intel. That was sort of my big break. During that time, a guy named Steve Jobs walked in. He had liked the Intel work we were doing and talked my boss in to helping him. About six month later we had developed all that original Apple brand and I had written the first ad for Apple.

P: What was that first ad, do you remember?

J: I just remember that it wasn’t very good. We didn’t know what a home computer was! I asked my boss, “What are they doing?” He said, “Well, it’s a home computer.” So I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “That’s what we have to figure out!”

Steve brought in a bunch of things, like a naked circuit board and a TV monitor, and he said he was going to change the world, and we were going to help him. We had to figure out what Apple would look like and what the voice should be.

When Intel moved a big part of its operations to Oregon in 1978, I moved here to open an office for my agency. My plan was to come up for a year or two and have an adventure and here I am almost 40 years later.

I almost completely retired about 3 years ago and my wife and I bought an RV and hit the road for a year. I learned for the first time in my life to live day to day and take what comes. I actually did do a couple branding projects from the road, but it was fun. I love being in the game. If I crave anything in my life, it’s solving problems.

P: Do you find that some of the skills you built in your career come in to your work at the Living Room?

J: In a lot of ways, it’s sort of the [photo] negative image of my career. I’m not selling anything, there’s no agenda with it, and I get to purely engage on a human level, with all these amazing people that are fighting the worst things you can imagine. I just get to go hang out with amazing people.

The way I ended up at the Living Room was, as I was retiring and I actually had more time to do what I wanted instead of what other people wanted me to do, I kind of wrestled with it for a while. Should I go back to school or volunteer? I couldn’t find volunteer opportunities that were meaningful to me. I met a guy one day and he says, you should get in touch with CCC. I applied on the website and I wrote a note that said that I’m happy to do anything.

I remember 30 years ago driving down Everett street and there was a guy staggering across the road and I said to my friend, “Do you ever just feel guilty, that there but for the grace of God go I?” So the opportunity to work in the living room with all these folks really appealed to me. It’s been an amazing experience and continues to be. And I’m not giving it up.

P: Any stand out experiences during your time here?

J: Yeah, there was one guy at the living room, and we would get in to these heavy philosophical conversations about human nature and science and philosophy. This is a guy who lived for ten years on a front porch. He is really a brilliant man.

P: That’s not something that we all get to do, is see the depth of people who are experiencing homelessness.

J: And what quality people they are and thoughtful and intelligent and self-aware. Even if they are in recovery from addiction or dealing with a mental illness, they’re learning how to be productive, functional people. It’s heartwarming for me to see someone’s eyes light up when they see me, because they know that I’m happy to see them too. Or when someone comes over and asks me to come talk to them. I actually feel like I’m making a difference in these people’s lives.

I’ve lead an exciting life and I’ve gotten to experience all kinds of successes and failures, but in a lot of ways, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve done. This has gone from “Oh gee, what am I going to do in my spare time?” to really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

P: Not everyone is able to make that kind of transition.

J: I know, I feel honored that I am allowed to do this.

P: Helps keeps the skills sharp too! We haven’t talked about the Marketing Advisory Council too much, but you had said that you crave problem solving, do you get your fill of that with the MAC?

J: Well, I just came from a MAC meeting! The best thing about it is that I don’t have to do the work, but the worst thing about it is that I don’t get to do the work

At the last MAC meeting we discussed these new ads for CCC, and that we need to makes sure these ads engage people on an emotional level. This isn’t just about telling people what CCC does, it’s about making people care.

P: If you could sum it up, what keeps you coming back to volunteer?

J: The people. They’re just wonderful. The clients are wonderful people that impress me, that touch my heart, that amaze me. The people that work here and the other volunteers are here for all the right reasons. We’re here to help people. It’s a much more rewarding mission than trying to make money or make somebody a star. It’s honest.

P: What would want someone to know who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?

J: Take the plunge! The water is great. You’ll never know yourself as well as you will when you’re doing this, when you’re working completely selflessly.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



"My battle with addiction and ADHD"

Jul 25, 2017

Babs, a patient of Central City Concern's Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), approached us earlier this year with a story to tell. Her story to tell.  And with the help of Dr. Brent Beenders, a former OHSU psychiatry resident at OTRC, she wrote it out. We're grateful that Babs is a part of our CCC community and honored that she asked us to help share her journey.

• • •

My name is Babs. This is my story about battling addiction.

I've been an addict of methamphetamines and heroin for many years. I’ve experienced numerous periods of sobriety and relapse. NA meetings, SMART Recovery meetings, and various types of therapy provided me some, but not sustained, relief.

To fully appreciate my story we need to begin with my birth. I was born in 1960. I had various injuries during my birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and my hand was pressed into my skull causing a compressed skull fracture. I am convinced that I was trying to get the cord from around my neck, thus causing my brain injury.

Not that this was enough, but my mother was addicted to alcohol, heroin, and barbiturates before and during her pregnancy with me. My mother’s attempted suicide while I was in the womb also may have been significant in my early development. I had seizures starting from birth. This combination of traumatic brain injury, seizures, and being born addicted to heroin and barbiturates set me up for a lifetime of frustration, fits of anger, anxiety, depression, cognitive difficulties, and severe attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Eventually I developed addictions to substances.

I had severe ADHD from a very young age which caused me difficulty in school; I was unable to sit still and could not concentrate on my work or comprehend what was taught. My symptoms were severe enough that I had to repeat the second grade; this was disruptive in that I lost my first group of friends. Finally, I was treated for my ADHD. This improved my hyperactivity, attention, and ability to focus. Despite learning disabilities, finally I was able to progress through several grades. Unfortunately, my doctors at the time thought that ADHD would resolve with puberty, so my medication was discontinued at age 12. I was able to struggle only through the first half of my sophomore year of high school after which I dropped out.

Three months after discontinuing my ADHD medicine was my first experience with street drugs. With the exception of a few brief periods of sobriety, I used illegal drugs daily for many years. I primarily used methamphetamine, but I also used heroin. My brain and body did not seem to know the difference between these different drugs. Without my ADHD medications, I found it near-impossible to use basic survival or coping tools. What the drugs did for me was provide brief relief from the chaos I was experiencing inside.

From the beginning of these years of drug use, I experienced numerous, deep physical and emotional traumas. The resulting PTSD further deepened my addictions and resulted in further personal turmoil. While there were many reasons for my turn to drugs, one important reason that I’ve come to realize is my untreated ADHD. With untreated ADHD, impulsivity ran rampant. ADHD, coupled with a naïve young adolescent brain, contributed to my drug use and other choices that resulted in years of intense victimization and abuse.

The key to breaking free from this cycle of drug abuse and trauma was getting adequate treatment for my ADHD. Given years of amphetamine abuse and sporadic use, finding a provider that would treat this disorder adequately was difficult—almost impossible—despite such an extensive record of my historical diagnosis and past treatment. I tried various treatment strategies recommended by various doctors over the years to address mood and anxiety, which were decidedly dysregulated. These included various antidepressants and antipsychotic medications; this treatment left me with even more severe depression and prone to fits of anger.

Though I had been a patient of Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center years ago, I was getting increasingly desperate for help with my ADHD and how chaotic it made my life, so I decided to reestablish myself as a patient. Working with a psychiatric doctor, we found a medication that could be of immense help and would balance the chemicals in my brain, helping me focus, stay calm, regulate my emotions, and regain control of my life. But there was a big catch: I needed to show that I could be alcohol and drug free in order be given a prescription.

The doctor at Old Town Recovery Center—who, thankfully, understood how brain injuries, trauma, and addiction all affect each other—told me that if I could get alcohol and drug free, we could get started on medication. Ironically, without the right medication, sobriety sounded impossible. And given my current condition and my history of substance use, I was terrified that this was just turning out to be another dead end.

But something special happened: my doctor told me that she believed in me and my ability to get and stay in recovery. She saw that I needed it and that I wanted to regain control of my life. She not only saw the strength inside me, but the supports I could get outside myself.

During the time that I had to show I could get into and stay in recovery, I leaned heavily on the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, where a group of peers—each managing their own addiction and mental illness each day—helped me stay on the path of recovery. I learned how to sit in my discomfort and doubts, to embrace them.

Finally, in June 2015, we started the medication. It immediately calmed my thoughts and motor behavior. This allowed me to relearn how to focus on tasks, it provided me with motivation to accomplish tasks, and it allowed for me to sleep more regularly and soundly.

Most importantly it has allowed for me to remain in recovery. For so many years I was utilizing amphetamines and other drugs to try to help regulate my emotions, soothe my anxiety, and even allow me to sleep. With adequate treatment and continued recovery, I feel like I have now been able to finally “grow up.”

Even my interests have shifted. I’ve been on the board of a community health center and was able to help initiate a needle depository program for the City of Portland; among the many benefits of this, important to me is maintaining a clean public environment. I was also able to get some health issues addressed. I needed surgery on my neck and no surgeon was willing to operate on me because of my addictions. After my surgery, the sensations, strength, and dexterity in my hands all improved. I have been able to complete classes to become a certified peer support specialist. Now I can help others who are struggling with similar issues.

Recovery is a unique process for each individual, and I could not hope to elaborate on every step along the way. Here, I hope to have provided a sufficient overview to understand my recovery and the importance of treatment for ADHD.

Acknowledgments: In order to accomplish writing this article I utilized the help of Brent Beenders, MD, a psychiatry resident to help focus my thoughts and polish my prose. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me in my recovery.

I dedicate this to all the addicts out there who are still struggling.