Continuing to listen to trans voices

Nov 16, 2017


Happy Transgender Awareness Week 2017! According to GLAAD, this special week, Nov. 13 to Nov. 17, is set aside to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

In this space last year, we shared about the numerous steps Central City Concern was taking to ensure that our programs and services, as well as the staff members providing them, were as affirming and inclusive of our transgender patients and clients as possible. This year, we want to provide an update on our efforts to do so!

Trainings: CCC continues to offer trainings year-round to our staff members about working with trans and gender non-binary patients and clients. Several lead staff members have also made it a point to attend trainings hosted by community organizations so they can share what they learn with our program staff.

We continue to encourage our training attendees to approach the sessions from a place of humility. What Eowyn Rieke, CCC’s Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, said last year continues to apply to our approach: “We’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”

"We’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”
- Eowyn Rieke, Associate Medical Director of Primary Care

CCC Director of Equity and Inclusion Freda Ceaser says that this posture has provided the organization with a blueprint to fully operationalize trans affirming program services across the agency. She says that in the coming year, her goal is to work with every CCC program to begin an initial assessment of procedures and policies to become more trans affirming and inclusive.

“It’s so rewarding to see how the work of health services intentionally recognizes and affirms the identity of each of our patients. I want every person we serve, no matter their gender identity, to feel accepted, valued, and respected.” 

Trans Support Group: Chrysalis, the trans and gender non-binary support group that formed last year in response to what we heard from our patients, has been thriving. Open to patients of Old Town Clinic (OTC) and Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), Chrysalis is a safe place where, according to facilitator Shanako Devoll, “people can talk about the difficulties of navigating everyday life and strategies used to address safety, mental health, and substance use.”

Group members say that Chrysalis helps them counteract the isolation they can feel by being part of a group that understands each other’s struggles and triumphs. At each session, attendees share their experiences, bring information about resources they’ve come across, and slowly build a community of shared experiences together.

The group meets bi-weekly. While the make-up of each meeting can differ, Chrysalis averages about five attendees each time the group comes together. Chrysalis is currently open to new members; in mid-December, the group will close for six weeks to allow the group members build trust and create the safe space they need.

"I want every person we serve, no matter their gender identity, to feel accepted, valued, and respected.”
- Freda Ceaser, Director of Equity and Inclusion

Electronic Health Records: Thanks to CCC’s amazing EHR implementation team, our health services can now make changes to patients’ gender identification information faster and easier than ever.  

Responding to the Needs of the Trans Community: As we continue to listen to our trans patients, we’re making changes that we believe are positive for them and the larger community.

All our multi-stall bathrooms inside OTC and OTRC now have signs that emphasize our support for individuals using the bathroom that best fits with their gender identity.

To better support trans patients and clients in substance use disorder treatment programs, our services are working toward making our urinalysis collection process more trans affirming.  

And finally, Margot Presley, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing Practice candidate, used her doctorate project as a way to seek out and listen to trans voices at our Old Town Clinic. Margot’s project, “Patient Engagement in Quality Improvement: Raising the Voice of Transgender Patients Experiencing Homelessness” used patient engagement and qualitative inquiry techniques to interview people about their experiences as trans patients of OTC. Their feedback was used to recommend changes to our clinic operations with the goal of better meeting their needs.

Her manuscript is in process of being published in Transgender Health, “the first peer-reviewed, open access journal dedicated to addressing the healthcare needs of transgender individual;” Margot also presented a poster showing her work at several conferences. 

• • •

Each year, Trans Awareness Week leads up to the Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, an observance to honor and remember those whose lives were lost to acts of anti-trans violence. There are a number of events in the Portland metro area to participate in that day. All descriptions are from the event hosts: 

Thursday, Nov. 16
Keynote featuring Jennicet Gutiérrez: How to Get Involved, Hosted by Portland State Temprr Month and PSU Queer Resource Center
: Join us for our TEMPRR keynote panel event with activist Jennicet Gutiérrez! As a founding member of La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Gutiérrez's activist experience with transgender rights and immigrant rights has given her great knowledge on how to get involved with various types of activism. This panel will also have local activists who will answer questions and share more about their activism. (Link) 

Friday, Nov. 17
5th Ave. Presents: ReAgitator, hosted at Fifth Avenue Cinema
: Join us in honoring Trans Day of Remembrance a few days early with an incredibly inventive film from independent trans-filmmaker Dylan Greenberg. Her film Re-Agitator: Revenge of The Parody, tells the bizarre story of a mad scientist using a cynical serum to revive a beautiful woman back from the dead leading to complete and total chaos. Using an arsenal of homages and spins off of classic and modern horror, Re-Agitator is bound to satisfy a weird and experimental itch. The film will feature an introduction from Dylan herself, including discussion of her experience with being an indie filmmaker and multi-media artist in NYC. This event will be donation-based instead of our regular ticketing prices, all proceeds will go to the artists. (Link) 

Sunday, Nov. 19
Trans Day of Remembrance March & Interfaith Vigil
: Please all Transgender folk and Cisgender allies join us in reverence and solidarity to honor the fallen and make a stand against Transphobia. We will gather at Terry Schrunk plaza for a staging and a brief program whereupon we will process to the First United Methodist Church for a candle lighting ceremony for the fallen and a message of hope and renewal from local area spiritual leaders followed by a reception where light refreshments will be served. (Link)

Monday, Nov. 20
Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017, hosted at Portland Community College
: This event is being planned by the Portland Transgender community, with the support of Portland Transgender organizations, Portland LGBTQIA2+ organizations, and allies, and is being led by Portland Transgender People of Color. (Link)

Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial Meeting, hosted at Multnomah Friends Meeting House: We welcome you to join us on this day to mourn and honor the lives of those who have been murdered in the previous year because of anti-transgender hatred.

We gather to remember. We also gather to pray for, and to dedicate ourselves to work for, a world where transgender people are safe from hatred and violence. (Link)



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: October 2017 Edition

Oct 30, 2017

We’re very excited to turn this month’s spotlight to a volunteer from Puentes, Central City Concern’s culturally-specific program that supports Latinxs in recovery. Developed in 2005, Puentes uses a multidisciplinary approach to provide alcohol and drug treatment and mental health care to individuals and to the entire family in a way that mitigates stigma and fear.

Claudia, this month’s spotlighted volunteer, lends a hand to Puentes’ program that works with Latinx youth ages 14-21 who have drug or alcohol issues or are susceptible to gang involvement, Esperanza Juvenil. Marysol Jimenez, who oversees Esperanza Juvenil, says about Claudia, “It's been a satisfying experience to train a young adult that wants to learn about addiction counseling field, and is interested in working with our Latinx youth.”

Read on to hear how Claudia came to Puentes and how her own experience informs her work.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Claudia: Claudia Aparicio, and I’m volunteering at Puentes with Esperanza Juvenil, which in English is Youthful Hope.

P: And what does the Esperanza Juvenil program do?

C: The program is specifically for youth that are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a reduction method. Marysol, who is the Esperanza Juvenil staff member, her goal is to get the youth to reduce their addiction. So, sometimes they ask her, “Do we have to quit?” and she’s like, “No, but it would be good if you could quit!” So she works with them in reducing the harm until they stop.

P: How did you find out about CCC?

C: When I was studying for the Certified Recovery Mentor position, [CCC staff member] Ricardo, who helped us get certified, would always call on me and say it would be really cool if I could volunteer with Puentes. He never really told me about the program, but was always trying to get me to volunteer, so finally I ended up coming here to volunteer.

P: I should probably know this, but what is a Certified Recovery Mentor?

C: A Certified Recovery Mentor is a first level of what a certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor would do. So we’re mentors for people that are working to recover from their addiction. I did my certification with the Instituto Latino, so it was a group of Hispanic people [getting certified].

P: How did you get involved with that organization?

C: I knew someone from Volunteers of America who was the one who started the group for Hispanics to get certified as CRMs. I went with a church, called Ministry of Jesus Christ of Men and Women Seeking Lost Souls. We work more with the homeless population, which not a lot of pastors do in the Hispanic area. We go to the streets and try to reach the homeless and give them resources.

P: What do see as the benefit of having a culturally specific program?

C: It just helps to see that there’s a lot of need in the Hispanic community, especially because they don’t really speak English. Ever since I was 19 I’ve been working with the Hispanic population, which I never thought I would do, because I had to help my mom with translations and filling out papers, and so I never saw myself doing that as a grown up. And now that I find myself serving the Hispanic community, trying to get them resources, and telling them where to go for resources, whether it’s a light bill, whether it’s to find an apartment, for a kid’s food boxes or clothing, I see that as a big challenge, because there is a big need in the Hispanic community.

P: And what is the importance of serving youth specifically?

C: I think it’s because they’re in their teen years, so they’re growing up. It’s better to stop or try to reduce the harm when they are young. It’s like a baby when it’s small. When a baby is small, you don’t start disciplining them when they’re 10 years old, because then it’s a little bit late.

P: What are the challenges of that?

C: The challenge is the youth can be a little bit rebellious, but there’s a saying in Spanish that says, “Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre”— we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom. Which is true because I lived it, I didn’t listen to my mom, but when I met my pastor I listened to her more.

“There’s a saying in Spanish that says, ‘Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre’—we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom.”
- Claudia, CCC Volunteer

P: For those that are rebellious, how do you reach them?

C: We try to talk to them and see where their rebelling comes from, because from my own experience, a kid is going to be rebellious because something happened. Like me, I was rebellious because something happened in my life and there was a root of bitterness in my heart, which made me really stubborn in my teen years and got me in to a lot of trouble as well.

And sometimes we’re young but have to mature faster than our age. I just had to mature a lot younger than I would because of my experience. Especially since I didn’t get disciplined, and sometimes self-discipline is much harder than getting disciplined by your own parent.

P: And it’s hard when you’re older than your years, because your experience is going to be so different from you friends.

C: I had a hard time fitting in school, I always thought I was superior than my classmates. I would just go in my shell and always find the library, because I always liked reading books. I would look for stories that were not relatable to me so I could learn more about other life experiences.

P: And that kind of ties in to what you’re doing now, hearing other people’s stories and being a mentor to people whose experiences may be different from your own. Have there been any particular stories that have stood out?

C: I heard a story of a girl who was getting her treatment here and she was going through the same experiences that I had gone through as a teen. Her mother didn’t try to connect with her and see to her needs, or understand why she was going through what she was going through. A lot of that happens because of culture shock. We’re born here and our parents are from Mexico or Guatemala, or some other Hispanic county, so we learn different things. Whether or not we want it, our culture is American culture, even though our parents are from Spanish-speaking counties. And sometimes we want to adapt to their culture as well, but since we don’t really know about it, we have to research it on the internet. We’re also more free. They didn’t go to school, they had to work, they had to feed the horses and the chickens. We don’t do that. So sometimes our parents don’t realize it’s a bit of culture shock between us and they don’t understand us or they don’t try to understand us. So when I heard that girl’s story, my heart went out to her.

"I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from."

P: What keeps you coming back to volunteer?

C: I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from.

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

C: I would definitely recommend CCC, because it’s a good agency and I’ve learned a lot. And at Puentes, it’s family based. Ever since I came they were like, “We’re a family here. We don’t see any of you guys aslower than us, and when we eat, we eat together.” We don’t eat in our own offices, we’re always eating together in the kitchen, and sometimes we don’t always have room so we’re all squished together, all talking and laughing.

• • •

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.



CCC announces new director of Equity and Inclusion

Sep 28, 2017

Freda Ceaser, CCC's new director of Equity and InclusionFreda Ceaser, MSW, joined Central City Concern’s executive leadership team as director of Equity and Inclusion on Tuesday, Sept. 19. 

“Freda has been a valued member of our staff for 13 years and has always viewed her work through an equity and inclusion lens,” says CCC Chief Medical Officer Rachel Solotaroff, MD. “She will move CCC’s initiatives forward that promote diversity and inclusion as well as address racial and cultural equity in our services and as an employer. We’re excited she’s formally moving into this role.”

Freda worked her way from the front lines at CCC’s Employment Access Center to her current position of Director of Employment Services. She has provided consistent leadership and involvement in CCC’s Diversity Committee over the last five years and is instrumental in CCC’s ongoing Equity and Inclusion Assessment work. Most recently Freda provided the vision and advocacy for Flip the Script, a new reentry program for African-American clients that provides wrap around services with a focus on breaking the cycles that send people of color back to prison.

“I am so honored to serve in this role especially in light of these uncertain times that we find ourselves in as a nation,” Freda says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on these important issues with an incredibly dedicated team focused on improving, creating and implementing programming for underserved and marginalized populations, as well as their emphasis and focus toward promoting a workforce that reflects the agency’s diversity, equity and inclusion values.”

Freda is a lifelong Portland resident and earned her Masters of Social Work degree from Portland State University. Her lived experiences, education and work in the trenches are the driving forces for her passion for promoting racial equity in the community



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.



"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,

heaving,

broken,

hurting.

You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017



An Imani Center Graduation: A Victory Lap for Transformation

Jun 22, 2017

Linda Hudson, Director of African American ServicesA beautiful day in Peninsula ParkMalcolm, one of 10 graduates, shared a moving poem to encourage his fellow graduates.Larry Turner, a respected voice in the local African American recovery community.Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser sang a a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

On Wednesday, June 7, CCC's Imani Center program held its first-ever mahafili—Swahili for "graduation"—for ten clients who had completed the program. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

Isn’t this burden heavy?
Don’t you want to rise?
And join your people?
Don’t you want to rise?
It is all there for you. Yours to claim.
 
-Excerpt from "A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love." by Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Imani Center graduate

Wednesday, June 7 was a notably bright and sunny day in North Portland, a welcome break from the early-summer gray often seen in the Pacific Northwest. But for attendees of the Central City Concern Imani Center’s first-ever mahafali—Swahili for “graduation”—the brightest lights at Peninsula Park radiated from the clients present to be honored for their accomplishment.

The Imani Center provides culturally specific and responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment to the community. It is a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes a treatment model tailored to their clients’ experiences, created by staff members with lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience. According to Director of African American Services Linda Hudson, both the clients and the staff deserved a similarly distinct graduation.

“Graduating from such a unique program symbolizes accomplishment, change, commitment, and resilience. We thought it was the perfect time to have a family get together,” she said.

Some graduates completed their outpatient treatment in as little as four months; other graduates spent nearly a year in the program. All earned their graduated status as changed people who had developed the tools and found a support network vital to staying on the path of recovery.

The event started with Linda welcoming the crowd of about 40 people, which included Central City Concern staff members, graduates, and their friends and family. Also in attendance were several alumni of CCC’s Puentes program—a culturally specific addiction treatment and mental health program that serves the local Latinx population—that had forged a mutually supportive camaraderie with Imani Center participants over the past year.

Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer, followed Linda and shared remarks on what she sees as making the Imani Center so special: that it empowers clients to build a home for the community of African Americans working toward recovery in a way that the community itself wanted to shape it.

Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser wowed the gathered audience with a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Larry Turner, a pillar of the local African American recovery community, addressed the graduates directly, encouraging them to continue the hard work of recovery and to uphold their responsibilities to themselves as well as their community.

Finally, the graduates were each recognized for completing the Imani Center treatment program, and all had the opportunity to share their thoughts. While each of their journeys through the program was unique, a theme became quickly apparent: though these graduates had participated in recovery groups and programs before, it wasn’t until Imani that they were able to feel and benefit from genuine one-on-one peer connections based in shared cultural experiences.

Graduate Malcolm shared a piece he had written called “A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love,” originally written for his cousin and son, but perfect for this group of graduates and their shared journey forward.

A number of graduates also shared what helped them persevere: the Imani Center staff refused to give up on them, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on themselves.

And like the smell of roses in bloom at Peninsula Park, the feeling of gratitude—for the Imani Center, for people who finally understood, for the mutual care and trust between staff and clients, for recovery and hope for a better, healthier future—filled the air throughout the entire mahafali.

Though this first-ever Imani Center graduation required hours upon hours of planning, Linda believes it was entirely worth the effort and foresees many more graduations in the future.

“Our clients worked hard to achieve this moment,” Linda said. “It’s like taking a victory lap for transformation.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

Just last month, Central City Concern launched the Flip the Script program with the goal of providing housing, cultural peer support, and employment specialists to support African Americans’ reentry into the community when leaving a criminal justice program. Without employment or housing, African Americans have a 36 percent chance of re-entering the system; addressing those pitfalls was crucial to their success.

But before the conversations around solutions could begin, CCC needed to identify the presenting issues, snags, and concerns facing this population.

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

Although much of his work was behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the critical role MJ played in laying the foundation for the Flip the Script program was imperative to the successful launch of Flip the Script. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with MJ and ask him about the groundwork it took to assist in getting this program rolled out.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: Michael Jones but I go by MJ.

And my volunteer proposition to you all was “Hey, if you’ve got some data, I would love to volunteer to analyze it.”

Because I thought you can do two things with that. I thought, one, we could help improve the program wherever that data came from so we can find some areas for improvement. And two, I thought this data could help you all tell your story about how you’re driving the impact in the community.

I do believe if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. But I also really know that data can close deals.

It sounds like our Employment Access Center was able to take you up on your offer, specifically for their Flip the Script Program.
Coming from a business background it’s all about ROI—the return on investment—and when I thought about it you guys have probably the largest ROI in the history of the world. Seriously. If you look at what does it cost to incarcerate a person versus what does it cost when a person is a productive member of society? That’s sort of the ROI that I see.

So with that I started to dig in, and with Freda [Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services), was given a project to go run with. Once I got in, like with every large organization, it turned out to be kind of complicated. We were sort at the classic starting point of not having all of the data. CCC had some data based on where individuals were housed with intake and exit interviews, but the data actually started back with the Department of Corrections.

And then as we started to dig further, it goes into the Department of Justice. I thought it was pretty amazing in the early stages of this project that Freda was able to wrangle those folks to come and get everyone in the same room. We had people driving up from Salem, from DOJ and DCJ, and we spent some time on a whiteboard and it did turn out to be very complicated. I sketched it all out and said well they have this piece and they have this piece but how do we marry those together.

It was pretty great and they sort of rallied around that this was a good idea. We did really need to keep people’s privacy and security in mind so we did talk about the cleaning of the data so it’s non-identifiable. But gosh, after a couple of months, everybody provided all of the bits and we were able to paste it together and basically what we had was 1,000 records and those represented 1,000 people.

That sounds like quite a bit of collaboration and work! Do you feel like the results were well-received?
I feel like what I presented to your team, people were really excited. They were like, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen the data presented in this way. We’ve never seen this much data. We’ve never heard the story told on top of it and we’ve always been looking at a small piece.” It really opened their eyes to some really healthy discussion and debate around the causation of recidivism and then a lot of thinking on how to improve it.

Recidivism is such a common thread for so many. What were some of the causes you discovered?
For instance one of the top reasons for recidivism is an individual, or a sex offender, not registering their location. But when you think about it, well, if you don’t have a home it’s kind of hard to register your location.

We uncovered some things that seem a little counterintuitive. Like how to some degree people would be less likely to recidivate if they stayed in a shelter, or if they even lived on the street, than if they went to live with friends. And that group that said they lived with friends had an incredibly high recidivism rate. But when you think about it, it makes total sense because that’s getting back to your bad habits. And so I think that helped really enlighten things.

And MJ, what made you want to get involved with Central City Concern in the first place?
I was motivated because of the homelessness situation that we’ve seen unfold in the past three years and I’m not one to just sit on the sidelines. I like to take action so I decided I wanted to volunteer locally and that seemed to be the biggest problem I could see locally.

And I was impressed [with Central City Concern]. There’s a huge number of organizations that are helping homeless populations in a variety of ways, but I really liked CCC because you guys focused on the health angle, the employment angle, and the housing angle and so I saw that as more sustainable. I guess I saw that as teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish.

And I love the social enterprise angle because I think that gives people real world work experience and it gives people the skills they need but it’s actually a real company and it’s about generating revenue. So I’m wild about that. We’re not just throwing cash at people but we’re teaching them life skills. It’s a bigger organization than I thought and I’d say it’s more innovative.

Is there anything you would think about doing differently if you volunteered again?
I loved it but in hindsight I was thinking my flaw in that volunteering opportunity was that these people were still numbers. And I think it would be good for me to see them as people and not numbers. And so I think being critical of my own volunteer experience, it was a very clinical and analytic sort of play where I think I could build more empathy if I got closer to the people rather than spreadsheets of numbers. Which is to say I have a couple of other things I want to work on, volunteering things, but that thinking has helped me inform my future strategy around my volunteering opportunities and wanting to be a little bit closer to it.



Empowerment by Design: CCC Celebrates Black History Month & the Imani Center

Feb 23, 2017

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern!

We are thankful for occasions like Black History Month to intentionally set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the richness and depth of Black history and culture.

As an agency, we also aim to daily honor the strength, resilience, creativity, and joy that are core to the African American experience. A primary way we do that is through CCC’s Imani Center program, which offers culturally specific and responsive outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, peer support, and case management.

Based out of the historic Golden West Hotel building—itself a significant part of Portland’s Black history—the Imani Center is a prime example of a community using knowledge of its members’ histories and needs to help its own.

According to Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services, Black clients of mainstream mental health and addiction treatment programs often face unique barriers to their recovery success. “When African American clients come in with different experiences and different perspectives and they try to fit the client into that [mainstream treatment] curriculum, there’s often some tension there.”

But at the Imani Center, we provide Afrocentric services. All mental health and addiction counselors, as well as the peer support specialists, identify as African American; several have longstanding ties to the Portland area. Clients can feel like they are in a safe place. Here, they can talk about the impact of racism and discrimination knowing the staff understand firsthand what they’re talking about because of the staff’s collective experience.

“We know how it goes and we know how it feels,” Linda says. “We the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are. We can share with clients how they might be able to navigate [their recovery] and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.” There is an understanding that the Imani Center's services explore the meaning of being Black in America and how it impacts one’s recovery. There is also an understanding that the Black self is deeply entrenched with the collective experience. (Bassey, 2007)

During the listening and planning process that preceded the Imani Center, CCC heard the African American community say that they valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Today, between Imani Center’s eight-person staff, there are three Masters of Social Work degrees, three Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling credentials, three Certified Recovery Mentor credentials, and three Qualified Mental Health Professional designations. While those qualifications are impressive, Linda says that they send a message. “We need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving.”

So while innovative counseling approaches and a full slate of group sessions drive much of the change that Imani Center clients see in themselves, much of their success comes from seeing themselves reflected in the make-up of the staff. This empowerment is by design. Addiction and mental health recovery, as well as educational and professional achievements, seem so much more possible when one can readily picture themselves in the shoes of an Imani staff member who has walked that path ahead of them.

Each day, the Imani staff reaches back to pull other members of the Portland African American community up with them. They understand what their clients are experiencing; now, they’re committed to helping their clients experience the empowering freedom that comes along with recovery.

• • •

The Imani Center is accepting new clients. If you know someone who may benefit from talking with a counselor who will listen on a regular basis and offer compassionate support, please pass on this information about the Imani Center.

Anyone can schedule an eligibility screening by contacting the Imani Center at 503-226-4060 or Imanicenter@ccconcern.org.



Celebrating Transgender Awareness Week

Nov 18, 2016

Nov. 14 – Nov. 20 is Transgender Awareness Week! GLAAD describes this week as a time to “help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.”

The transgender patients and clients we serve at Central City Concern are a valued part of our vibrant community, but they also face a number of unique barriers. According to CCC Associate Medical Director of Primary Care, Dr. Eowyn Rieke, people who identify as transgender are more likely to have difficulty finding employment and accessing housing. This, of course, increases the chances they become homeless and live in poverty, which is often how they end up as CCC patients.

Roran Everheart, an urgent care medical assistant at our Old Town Clinic, adds, “There is an overriding fear of being outed and ending up on the street. There’s a fear of violence.”

Our mental health providers also see a relationship between people who struggle with questions about their gender identity in isolation, and mental illness and substance use disorders. “Oftentimes we see that someone’s gender identity struggles play such a role in their mental illness that we actually see a relief of symptoms when people can make steps toward living the life that they believe is rightfully theirs,” says Erika Armsbury, Director of Clinical Services at our Old Town Recovery Center. “And the same goes with substance use—we see people who use substances as a means to manage whatever it is they are struggling with around who they are with respect to gender.”

Roran, who identifies as trans, understands some of this firsthand. “I wasn’t able to transition until I got into recovery,” he shares. “Gender identity is so complex. When you’re trying to figure out what your gender identity is, it’s a strain on your mental state. From my own experience, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is also homeless, addicted, and also trying to transition.”

These are the very real issues that affect the transgender community we serve; they matter profoundly to us. We also know CCC must continue working to extend the values of equity and inclusion to more and more people. In fact, increasing equity is an explicit part of our organization’s strategic plan.

In that spirit, CCC—particularly our health services—has taken steps over the last year to make our agency is more trans affirming, trans inclusive, and responsive to the experiences of transgender individuals. Staff members formed working groups. They held meetings, brainstormed, and prioritized. They consulted with our own health care consumers and colleagues.

Since that call to action, CCC’s health services have made significant advances to address the unique issues our trans patients and clients experience.

Trainings
Within the past few months, every single CCC staff member across our primary care, mental health care, and substance use disorder programs has gone through a “Trans 101” training to provide an understanding of the basics. The information covered in these trainings was intended to demystify trans issues, as well as to learn how to be an ally and interact with transgender patients in appropriate, sensitive ways.

However, Eowyn emphasizes that this is not about cultural competence; instead, it’s about humility. “Competence implies that we who don’t identify as trans ‘get it.’ Instead, we’re working toward a culture of humility as it relates to gender identity—recognizing that there are great differences at play here and that we need to be humble about our assumptions.”

Old Town Clinic primary care providers received additional training on the basic medical care of transgender patients. In a separate two-session training, mental health providers at Old Town Recovery Center learned about working with transgender patients during the transition process, as well as their responsibilities related to writing assessment and approval letters for patients hoping to transition.

“We want to be sure out providers are on the same page,” Erika says. “[Providing letters] is something we want to offer our patients consistently, but it’s important for us to improve our larger understanding of trans issues because, for us and our patients, the letter isn’t the ultimate goal, nor is it the end of their journey.”

Providing CCC health staff with information doesn’t just benefit them. It’s also a way to take a common burden off our trans patients. As Roran says, “Having to train your doctor to be trans aware can be so exhausting.” Staff members who are aware of trans patients’ experiences drastically reduces the chances of retraumatizing patients with insensitivity and judgment. Instead, calling back to CCC’s goal of cultural humility, Erika says, “Even if we aren’t experts, we know enough to be open and accepting. We honor their experiences and all the things they come to us with. We can show that we want to work with them to tease out the severe mental health hardships while also supporting them around their gender identity.”

Transgender Support Group
Patients of Old Town Clinic and the Old Town Recovery Center can now find a community of support, thanks to a new group co-facilitated by Roran and Shanako DeVoll. Though in its early stages, Roran sees great potential for the group, named “Chrysalis.”

“A lot of our clients are pretty isolated in their lives,” Roran says. “When you start to navigate your gender identity without supportive family or friends, it can be lonely to not have that sounding board. This group gives them a chance to meet other people who identify as trans.”

The hour-long support groups make room for organic conversation to talk about struggles and victories, resources, and relevant topics. Roran and Shanako co-facilitate, but the group itself is largely client-led. It begins open for anyone for two meetings, then closed for the following three months to give the group time to develop a sense of community and trust. After, the group open up again. That sense of trust, Roran says, is imperative to our clients.

“Many of our clients face mental health and addiction challenges. There are already lots of groups out there for trans people, the feeling is that many of them feel cliquish. Clients with mental health challenges may not be able to navigate the social cues at larger, more established groups, so having someone like Shanako, a mental health professional, on board is great.”

Roran hopes to see the support group thrive. Early signs show interest is high, and people appreciate this opportunity to find an accepting community. “I hope that people want to come back all the time and that this first group will invite their friends to this awesome group they’ve discovered.”

Adapting Electronic Health Records
In a health care setting, it’s easy to forget infrastructure and technology can carry the same biases and blind spots that we seek to mitigate. Thankfully, CCC health services didn’t forget, and instead spearheaded substantive changes to our Electronic Health Records (EHR) system to, as Eowyn says, “reflect this culture change of becoming more trans affirming and inclusive that we’re working to embed within the organization.”

The most immediate and noticeable change is the banner when one pulls up a patient’s record. There, at the very top, is now an area that shows the patient’s pronoun and preferred name. Though small, this change will help staff interact much more appropriately in the way that the patient identifies.

The EHR system will also help health care staff ask appropriate questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, in both content and word choice. Staff members performed hours of research to learn about best practices for asking these questions, then adapted it to CCC’s culture to be even more inclusive than what the current body of research suggests. The goal, according to Eowyn, is to structure these questions in a way so “as many people as possible have a place to feel like they belong.”

Better, more inclusive questions means gathering better, more inclusive responses. This, ultimately, will help CCC health services track how we are serving our transgender patients as a whole. In that vein, an OHSU Doctorate of Nursing student is planning a period of focus groups and one-on-one interviews during which trans patients and clients can provide direct feedback about how CCC is doing and how we can continue to improve.

Keeping the Trans Community Visible
Finally, CCC will continue to be intentional about talking about trans issues, whether internally within the CCC community, or externally with partners and constituents. (Even this blog post is part of that effort!)

According to Erika, “The more we talk about [trans issues], the more we see it, and the more we work with people who identify as trans in a safe, open, and aware way, it will have a ripple effect in the public.”

Knowing that, CCC will continue to bring stories of our trans patients, as well as the work we do to, as Erika says, “give people an opportunity for people to live as they see themselves.”

 



An historic $258 million bond measure for affordable housing in Portland

Jul 08, 2016

Central City Concern is committed to reducing homelessness in Portland. We believe everyone deserves to have a place called home. Working families should be able to live where they work. Seniors who built our neighborhoods should be able to thrive here through their golden years. But because of significant growth and stagnant incomes, Portland has a huge shortage of affordable housing: affordable housing helps everyone by creating a safe, equitable and healthy community.

That’s why Central City Concern supports the Welcome Home Coalition’s Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, which is dedicated to funding affordable housing development in Portland. On June 30, the Portland City Council voted to refer a historic affordable housing bond to the November ballot, giving voters a chance to make a critically needed investment in our community. The $258.4 million bond will:

- Add permanently affordable housing – an estimated 1,300 units, 600 of which will be reserved for very low-income households (0-30 percent median family income, which is up to about $22,000 for a family of four)

- Stabilize existing affordable housing in changing neighborhoods

- Ensure thousands of homes are protected from the market

- Protect communities of color, seniors, families, children and people with disabilities

- Prevent and reverse displacement.

Housing prices in the Portland metro area are rising at an alarming rate. National research shows when the average rent increases by $100 per month, homelessness increases by 15 percent. In 2015, average Portland rents increased by $128.

Please join us in supporting the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign. We can all join together to prevent homelessness and preserve our healthy Portland neighborhoods.

For more information on the Yes for Affordable Homes campaign, visit the Welcome Home Coalition website.