Making Suicide Prevention a Routine Part of Care

Sep 11, 2017

national suicide prevention week ribbon and logoSuicide Prevention Week is Sept. 10-16, but preventing suicide is something Central City Concern (CCC) thinks about every day of the year. “Zero Suicide” is the national model of treatment that CCC’s Old Town Clinic (OTC) has adopted and integrated into all aspects of the primary care it provides to more than 5,000 individuals it serves annually. It’s a commitment to the idea that every suicide can be prevented with the right kind of care.

“No matter what your position, we’re all responsible for suicide prevention,” says Brian Barnes, Associate Director for Behavioral Health in Primary Care at OTC. Barnes explains that making suicide prevention a system-wide priority and a routine part of care is the key to ensuring that no one falls through the cracks. Having clear, established procedures is better for patients and better for staff because it normalizes prevention and helps everyone know how to get the right kind of help.

“Suicide prevention starts way back so that when we see a patient we are looking at the whole picture."

At Old Town Clinic, this has meant incorporating questions about suicide into regular patient visits, establishing new protocols to ensure that clinicians are aware of patients who have a plan to harm themselves and designating a suicide "clinician of the day" who can respond to help, usually within five minutes. An intervention by the clinician of the day can last several hours—enough time to really engage someone in a moment of crisis, gain new perspective on a situation that may seem hopeless and come up with a concrete safety plan for the day, which clinic staff follow up on. Implementing these changes entailed a team-effort at the clinic, with leadership for designing and operationalizing the new procedures from Susan Marie, Senior Medical Consultant for Behavioral Health in Primary Care, and Lydia Bartholow, Associate Medical Director for Outpatient Substance Abuse Disorder Services.

“This type of work is more typical in a specialty mental health setting,” says Barbara Martin, Senior Director of Primary Care at CCC. But in serving some of Portland’s most vulnerable residents, OTC aims for a comprehensive approach. Many of the clinic’s patients face struggles that make primary care especially challenging: finding housing, getting and keeping regular access to health care, or dealing with addiction and other severe mental illness. At the same time, health care providers can lean on CCC’s extended network of wraparound services in housing, addiction treatment, employment services and social support.

“Suicide prevention starts way back,” Barnes says, “so that when we see a patient we are looking at the whole picture.” It requires going beyond crisis-intervention and stabilization to address long-term needs that support overall health and well being. Recalling how the clinic staff helped one person who recently attempted suicide, Barnes notes: “We were able to get her treatment here, at Old Town Clinic, change some things with her mental health medications, and get her housed in CCC housing with programming specifically designed for people recovering from addiction. We consider all of that primary care, because it’s primary to the person, to their overall care.”

Having clear, established procedures is better for patients and better for staff because it normalizes prevention and helps everyone know how to get the right kind of help.

Barnes and Martin both emphasize that everyone can help make zero suicide a reality. Go with your gut, they say, and reach out to a hotline or many of the other resources available if it seems that someone is at risk of harming themselves. “The most important thing is to listen,” Martin says, “because the evidence shows that if someone is getting close to a point of despair, thinking about hurting themselves, they often talk to people.” And Barnes adds: “Every person’s behavior can be explained if you understand the context, but if you don’t have time to understand the context, then get someone who can.”

• • •

The Multnomah County Crisis Line is available 24/7: 503-988-4888. 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255
The David Romprey Oregon Warmline offers confidential peer support from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day: 1-800-698-2392



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2017 Edition

Aug 30, 2017

For this month's volunteer spotlight, we are turning to another volunteer who has multiple roles at Central City Concern. While Michael initially got started with Central City Concern as a volunteer at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, much like last month’s spotlighted volunteer, his interest in the behind the scenes work for nonprofit organizations led to him expanding his role to include a variety of work in the Public Affairs department. Both roles are well-served by Michael’s ample ability to be an open ear to others. Hayden Buell, who supervises Michael at the Living Room, summed it up, saying, “Michael stands out as a volunteer in his ability to listen to our members and get to know them and their stories in a way that really honors their individuality. He’ll just sit down and give them space to share themselves.”

Michael was so generous in turn as to share himself with us for this month’s spotlight!

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Michael: My name is Michael Thomas Taylor, and I volunteer with CCC in two places. I’ve been at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room since February and I’ve been helping in the Public Affairs department as well. I actually came in to talk to Susan [CCC’s Marketing and Communications Director] just because I wanted to do an informational interview, as I’m interested in moving into nonprofit work. Then Matt [CCC’s Grants Manager] said, “Hey, if you’re looking for an opportunity to help out and get some experience, you can help me with grants.” I’ve written a lot of grants as a professor, so that seemed like something that made sense. Then Susan had some projects, doing interviews with CCC clients, and blog posts.

P: So, you got most of your grant writing experience from your time as a professor?

M: Yeah, that’s one of the things you do as a professor – research, and if you want to do research you have to pay for it, and if you want to pay for it you have to write grants.

P: How did you get in to that line of work?

M: Short answer? I ran away to Europe. I grew up in the States, but I wanted to see more of the world pretty quickly. I spent a year abroad in Hungary as a foreign exchange student in high school. I wanted to stay connected with that, so in college, I started out as a music major and ended up as a German major, which worked because it got me back to Europe. I spent a year in Austria and a year and a half Germany, and then one thing led to another and I ended up doing a PhD in German. [A PhD in German] is an in-depth study of language and literature, but for me it also became a study of cultural history. A lot of my published research is in queer history or the history of sexuality, with a focus on Germany, and I branched out to do some work in curating exhibitions and communicating queer history to the public. That gave me some pretty awesome experiences and a fairly international background. I had some post-docs in Germany, and I was in France for a summer. Then my first job was in Canada, so I’ve kind of lived in lots of different places.

“Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone, that’s the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.”

P: What was that job in Canada?

M: I was an assistant professor of German. I was there for five years before I came to Reed College. We loved Canada – and even took Canadian citizenship! – but frankly it was too cold. I kind of thought [Reed] would be the next step in my career, but things have turned out differently and I’ve decided to make a career change.

P: And I guess part of that change and interest in nonprofit work is your time here! What initially drew you to CCC?

M: Being in recovery myself, but I also knew lots of people who’d been helped through CCC programs. I feel really strongly about the mission, and I have friends who work at CCC. [One of those friends and I] were actually snowshoeing on Mt. Hood, and we were just talking about this career change and what goals do I have. I mentioned I was interested in learning more about social service work. He was just like, “If you want to get a sense of what that might look like, you could come volunteer in the Living Room!” We had talked about what that space looks like and the community model they have there. What I love about the Living Room is that it’s not necessarily about clinical services. It’s really about a safe space, it’s about a community in which everybody is a member and everybody participates.

P: So there’s no barriers in between people there.

M: Yeah, the hierarchy is flattened out and everyone participates equally. A lot of the spiritual tools I’ve learned from being a Radical Faerie, about holding space and community, are happening at the Living Room and I just thought that was something I would love to be a part of.

P: Any experiences that have stuck out?

M: Well, getting to know some of the people. Everybody has their own story, and some people are more open about that or not. You need to build trust and sometimes you just need to be there and be present for people, so they see that you’re there, and you’re safe, and you’re interested in them and their success.

Sometimes we color, we just sit down and color and you just kind of talk with people and see what’s going on in their lives. There’s mental illness in my family and I don’t think my family had the tools that it needed to deal with that. You know, pills were often the solution, and that doesn’t always work without some sort of community support and skills model.

It was super powerful for me to come in to a room and see people, some of whom have very severe mental illness, just have a place to be to be understood, to be accepted, to be safe, to fit in, to connect in their own particular way. That has been really powerful and meaningful. It just puts a human face to people that we all live with. We all live in the same space together. That’s important, just to recognize that.

Every morning we sit down for an hour and do a group. There’s an icebreaking question like, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” Or sometimes something more intense, like, “What does recovery mean for you?” Everyone gets to speak, we have a stuffed bunny we pass around to indicate it’s your turn to speak. It’s often a lot of practice in holding community norms and values, letting other people speak, not interrupting, balancing “I have a lot to say” against “everybody needs to speak.” So slowing things down, and just learning how, practicing, being a community together.

“I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think is really powerful.”

P: With the client stories that you have been writing, have there been any stand out moments from the interviews?

M: You know, I am just consistently amazed at the resilience of people. That’s really powerful. I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think, is really powerful.

P: Being able to identify with others or see models for success?

M: And normalizing the struggles that people have gone though. So much about mental illness and addiction is about isolation, and I think breaking that sense of isolation is crucial to recovery.

P: Big or small, I think we’ve all felt that sense of relief when someone says, “No, I feel the same way, I’ve been through the same thing.”

M: I think recovery needs that. Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone; that’s why the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.

P: So, what keeps you volunteering at CCC?

M: I feel deeply committed to the work CCC is doing, and I’m getting some great experience. And I love the people. It’s just fun to be here and I’m genuinely excited about the work I am doing.

P: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering?

M: Try it out! What do you have to lose?

• • •

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.



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: 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



"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.



"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.”



Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

Yesterday's blog post focusing on the Central City Concern employees who earned diplomas in the past year shared a few lines from the written remarks of one of the graduates, Kari Fiori. However, we found her whole statement to be so encouraging, inspirational, and indicative of the strength and compassion of our employees that we decided to share it in full.

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Lynda Williams [of the Recovery Mentor Program] plucked me from De Paul Treatment Center over six years ago, giving me the chance to continue my "adult time out" at the Recovery Mentor Program. I desperately needed it. I wasn't ready to go back into the workforce, and knowing my history with relapse, I simply wanted to continue focusing on my recovery. I needed to get the foundation firmly in place, and I wanted to make sure I put nothing in front of the importance of not picking up, one day at a time.

Going out with the Community Volunteer Corps into the community allowed me to to get a feel for having a schedule and showing up when I was supposed to. I was able to get health care at the Old Town Clinic... the first time I'd had access to health care in many years. I went to a lot of 12 step meetings and did a lot of soul searching while I was in the Mentor Program. One thing I knew is that I wanted to get a bachelor's degree. I'd always been a good student, but my addiction didn't allow me to finish school. Every time I relapsed, I dropped my classes. Eventually, I gave up my dream of college, convinced I'd never stay clean or get a degree.

I decided to go back to school when I had two years clean and sober. I chose two years simply because I didn't want to focus on anything except not picking up for that amount of time (an amount of time I'd never been able to put together before). I was glad I waited because it was overwhelming and scary and, had I not had the recovery tools I'd gained during my first two years clean, I don't know if I'd have remembered that my recovery was my number one priority. Luckily, I did remember.

I picked Public Health as a major because it was a large umbrella that touched on so many things I care about deeply: the environment, personal health, city planning, community, etc. I never realized how political Public Health as a topic was until I started really learning about what goes into keeping us safe and healthy. I don't have to tell you how so many public programs live and die by the local, state and federal budgets passed.

During my first couple of years of school, I survived by cleaning houses. I had a decent little business built up, but the work was difficult for my middle-aged body. I still had no idea what career I was headed for, I only knew that I wanted to follow my heart and major in something that mattered to me.

One day, as I was walking across the campus, I got a call from Lynda Williams, the female Mentor at the Recovery Mentor Program. She told me that, because of the Affordable Care Act, the Mentor Program was going to expand, and would I be interested in applying for the new female Mentor position? It was a no-brainer! Of course I wanted to, and I did.

It's been two years now that I've been working as the evening and weekend Mentor at both the Estate and the Madrona Mentor Programs. It's like a dream job: I get to welcome our newest clients and talk to them about recovery and take them to meetings. Working for Central City Concern is such an honor. The work we all do affects the health of so many people, and those effects are felt not only by our clients, but by their family members and loved ones, as well.

Homes, Health, and Jobs is what it says on the CCC logo. Getting people off the streets, providing them with medical care in a place that treats them as valued members of the community, offering people a chance to get clean one more time, providing valuable mental health services, offering training and jobs through Clean and Safe and the on call positions, providing both Housing First and abstinence-based recovery programs in order to help the most people... these things and more are the things Central City Concern does that make the public's health better here in Portland.

I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the CCC workforce. Having benefited from services at a time I so desperately needed help has made me a true believer. I always tell our clients, "You are in a good place. You lucked out!" because I know it's true. I can't believe how much I lucked out, landing a job in the field I chose as my major before I even finished college! I don't know where I'll end up in five or ten years, career-wise. I only know that I plan on staying within the CCC family.

I'm so happy I'm getting my bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California. This coming Sunday I'll be walking in Portland State's commencement ceremony. My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.



CCC Clean Start: Keeping Portland Clean & Giving Workers a Fresh Start

Jun 06, 2017

As the weather warms and the days grow longer, people take more notice of what’s going on in their neighborhoods. Central City Concern’s (CCC) Clean Start program helps keep neighborhoods clean by clearing away trash and removing graffiti. It’s also a mentored six-month work experience that gives people an opportunity to work, grow and gain crucial experience and confidence to pursue employment opportunities. CCC Clean Start runs three Portland crews and one in Gresham, each consisting of two people and a truck.

Local residents can access CCC Clean Start through the City of Portland’s One Point of Contact page online form or the PDX Reporter app. The City reviews the request and often calls upon CCC Clean Start crews to visit the area to clear trash or assist campers with cleaning. CCC Clean Start crews do not move people from sites or participate in campground “sweeps.” Their mission is to help keep neighborhoods free of litter and debris, as well as to provide residents of encampments with resources to maintain a safe and hygienic environment.

In April 2017, the three Portland CCC Clean Start crews removed 3,511 bags of trash and 1,350 needles.

Additionally, CCC Clean Start contracts with the Portland Downtown Business Improvement District to operate Downtown Clean & Safe, a service that cleans a 213-block area in central downtown and along the bus mall. CCC Clean Start also operates a temporary storage locker near the west end of the Steel Bridge where people who have no place to call home can put their belongings for a few hours while they work or seek employment.

Each two-person team has a trainee who once experienced homelessness. These trainees receive minimum wage, work 40 hours per week for 6-months and learn valuable soft skills. Toward the end of their six-month work experience, CCC Clean Start employees engage in practical, employment development workshops at CCC’s Employment Access Center where they receive one-on-one assistance in the job search process.

Some graduates move on to CCC employment in janitorial, maintenance, pest control and painting roles that maintain CCC’s 23 buildings. Others find permanent employment outside of the agency.

CCC Clean Start program keeps neighborhoods clean and gives workers a chance to gain experience and skills. It’s a win-win. For more information, visit the CCC Clean Start webpage.