Meet We Are Family Headliner, Julia Ramos!

Mar 23, 2018

Central City Concern’s annual We Are Family fundraising dinner is coming up on May 2. The event raises funds in support of Letty Owings Center (inpatient treatment for pregnant women and mothers with young children), and our Family Housing programs. This year, guests will be treated to the unique and entertaining perspective of Portland stand-up comic, Julia Ramos.

Local comedian Julia Ramos will headline Central City Concern's We Are Family event on May 2, 2018. She tackles tough subjects, like her personal experience with addiction, through her comedy.Julia has made her mark by leaving no issue in her life off limits. She’s been invited to perform at the Northwest Women’s Comedy Festival and the All Jane Comedy Festival, and is a co-host for Minority Retort, a showcase in Portland highlighting the talents of local and non-local comedians of color. Julia’s main goal is to keep the conversation open on topics that aren’t always easy to discuss. She feels a solid punchline is the best way to fuel that conversation.

We recently squeezed into Julia’s busy schedule to get a few more details.

CCC: How long have you been doing comedy?

Julia Ramos: I've been doing comedy for a little over six years, however I've been doing comedy sober for almost six years. Stand-up comedy has been a dream of mine since I was five. Television and comedy for me was my first escape. I was fascinated with words and making a group of people laugh. Especially darker subject matter—the ability to turn dark subjects upside down and create laughter from them is powerful.

CCC: Why did you get into comedy?

JR: I really wanted to do comedy writing. I wanted to create sitcoms and be in writers’ rooms with other creative and funny types. Stand-up to me was something I wanted so much, but I felt more comfortable behind the scenes. I read books on comedy writing and all of them stated the only way to see if jokes would work in a taped show, was to try them out in front of a live audience. The books recommended stand-up, so I knew I needed to at least try it out.

CCC: What is your favorite part about entertaining?

JR: It's selfish. Entertaining people and getting a laugh feels good. It feels great. The feeling of relating situations I used to feel shame about is adrenaline inducing. Entertaining others gives them an escape from their lives for a few minutes. That's my job when I'm on stage, I bring them into my world and give them a mini vacation.

CCC: Why are you interested in helping to raise money for Letty Owings Center and Central City Concern’s Family Housing programs?

JR: I like helping, in any way I can. I'm grateful to be an addict; my life is better because of what I've been through. My wish is to give the same opportunity to others, helping women and children especially. I can't think of a more important cause than women, children, and addiction. If there's anything I can ever do to take the stigma from addiction away, and give other humans a foundation into the life they were meant to live, sign me up.

To sponsor a table at the event or two purchase individual tickets to We Are Family, visit our ticket purchase page!

Still curious about Julia and her comedy? Check out one of her hilarious sets!

Celebrating Black History Month: Flip the Script

Feb 28, 2018

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern! As the month comes to a close, we’re grateful for the opportunity for our community to learn about, learn from, and celebrate the countless Black heroes and heroines who paved the way for African Americans to live a life of freedom, opportunity and fully realized potential.

As an organization, CCC strives to embody this work that came before us, notably through our programs ensuring our African Americans clients have access to services that recognize and address historic inequities and systemic barriers, while also meeting individualized needs.

Programs like Flip the Script (FTS), a reentry program started in February 2017 that provides individuals exiting incarceration with dedicated housing, employment services, peer support, and opportunities for reentry system advocacy. The program helps people avoid reoffending and eases their path to reintegrating into society as productive community members.

Patrick spent 15 years in prison. After he had served his time, he knew that he'd need support to reintegrate back into society.FTS found its origins in a data collaboration between Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Community Justice, CCC, and a tireless CCC volunteer. The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

Patrick A. was on the cusp of becoming a free man after having spent more than a third of his life—15 years—in prison. When he was released, Patrick immediately came up against barriers to reintegration. Background check issues and employment gaps made it difficult for him to find a job; his lack of rental history made it nearly impossible to find housing. With his criminal history, few people outside his family wanted to reconnect; the ones who did were those still in the game, ready to draw him back in. Without ready paths to housing, employment and new positive relationships, Patrick could have easily been on the wrong side of these recidivism statistics.

The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

But Patrick was intent on choosing a new path. He was resolute on putting his head down and forging ahead, even if that meant feeling isolated. “To me, going back to jail wasn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life was done. I had a game plan in my head.”

He still needed support to get where he wanted to go.

The Multnomah County's Assessment & Referral Center eventually sent Patrick to CCC’s Parole Transition Program (PTP), which included housing at the Shoreline building. At his lease signing, he met a PTP staff member who told him about FTS, which would make him eligible for the CCC Employment Access Center’s (EAC) intensive one-on-one employment services, peer support and other opportunities. Patrick enrolled.

One of the first things a new enrollee like Patrick does is connect with an FTS Employment Specialist, who helps create a customized plan to help each person work toward their employment goals and develops other opportunities to enhance the client’s vocational skills in order to become a competitive job seeker. More determined than ever and invigorated by having a safe place to call home—“I’ve got my own space, so now I can figure out what to do with myself and my next step,” he recalls thinking—Patrick actually secured a job on his own within two days of moving into CCC housing, before he even met with his employment specialist, Elissa.

Patrick’s next goal was to make his way into the local carpenters' union, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he connected with Elissa, in whom he found the type of support he hadn’t felt in a long time. Elissa was able to assist Patrick with FTS resources that helped him pay for his driver’s license fees and work clothes while he continued to make connections at the union.

"That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. "

“I felt supported. That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. They treated me as a person, not just somebody who got out of jail.”

Three months after moving into CCC’s transitional reentry housing, Patrick applied for and received permanent housing, making him part of the 58 percent of FTS clients who exit into permanent housing. (Another 21 percent of FTS clients find another transitional housing opportunity.)

Patrick catches up with Billy A., the FTS advocacy coordinator (left) and Elissa, his employment specialist (right), at CCC's downtown Employment Access Center.

Soon after, Patrick was accepted into Carpenters Local 1503, opening the door for him to make an honest living with good wages. Since FTS started, 45 percent of FTS clients have used the program as a springboard to permanent housing and a source of income. (An additional 9 percent of clients moved into further transitional housing with an income source.)

Recognizing his need for a new network of positive peers, Patrick also connected with the FTS Advocacy Coordinator, Billy, who introduced him to the FTS Advocacy Work Team. Ask any of the dozen FTS clients who participate in this culturally specific group of African Americans and they’ll all agree: there’s something special happening here. When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

Together, they’ve created a survey to help identify areas for improvement and change in both the FTS program and larger landscape of reentry systems and policy. Though they may face barriers to employment and housing based on racial bias or discrimination in the justice system, they see that they’re not alone and feel empowered by the change they can take together. They are actively part of the work to disrupt the system that sets up a disproportionate number of African Americans to experience recidivism.

When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

“[The work group] gives me a chance to help other people and share my understanding as someone coming with firsthand reentry. It’s nice to be around other people going through the same thing you’re going through. And it’s nice that the others have the same understanding. Sometimes you don’t feel like explaining everything and they already understand what you mean,” Patrick says. “It also feels good to be around people who just want to meet you and know you and are just glad you’re doing well."

Initially shy and slow to trust, Patrick is no longer nervous or quiet. Instead, Patrick is confident and outspoken, especially in advocacy matters. He’s an active member of the group, finding a sense of community he’d been missing for so long. He has also reconnected with his family and is working to build relationships again.

“Going back to jail isn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life is done. I feel I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I’ve got a lot left to accomplish. I feel positive and optimistic about my future. I’m eager to see what I’ve got in store.”

• • •

Deep gratitude to Meyer Memorial Trust, A Home for Everyone, Multnomah County, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Deputy Truls Neal and Wells Fargo for their support and belief in this program dedicated to eliminating the disparities that exist within our criminal justice system.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2018 Edition

Feb 27, 2018

This month, we’re turning the spotlight on a part of Central City Concern that hosts almost a quarter of all the volunteers at CCC! With so many great folks to share, we couldn’t pick just one, so this month’s spotlight features two of our dedicated volunteers from the Letty Owings Center (LOC). 

Since LOC’s first days, volunteers have played a large role in bringing activities and extra comforts to the mothers and children who live there. Nerissa Heller, who oversees LOC, had this to say about the value of having volunteers in the program: “Volunteers have supported LOC since its inception in 1989. It truly makes the women in our care feel valued and special to have volunteers take time out of their day to give them positive, caring attention.” 

Our two volunteers this month get to engage with mothers and children in two very different, but equally appreciated, ways. One thing that both of them share is the feeling that volunteership gives them as much if not more than they feel they give. Read on to hear about their work at LOC!

• • •

Megan Hornby

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Two years. We were supporting CCC financially while we were still working, but then when I was full-time retired I wanted to give some time.

What is it that you do as a volunteer? I come in and I help the staff at the nursery by holding babies, playing with the babies, and basically giving them a little help at the end of the week. When they are full with about seven or eight babies, it’s a lot to keep everybody peaceful and happy.

Did you have experience working with kids before volunteering? Yeah, I have a lot of grandchildren, none of whom live in the area, so that’s another reason I like playing with the babies. I also have a background in nursing and working with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children.

What’s kept you coming back to volunteer? Volunteering, I decided, is something that I should really look forward to, otherwise I wasn’t going to be very good at it. So this is just one of my favorite days of the week because I enjoy being with the babies a lot and I enjoy the staff here. The staff are very professional and warm and appreciative. So it’s kind of a win-win. I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer.

Have there been any stand-out moments? I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses of the mothers. They’re pretty impressive. That they’re trying to deal with something that’s as difficult as addictions and at the same time balancing being a young parent. It’s pretty impressive to watch them go through the program and get their lives back on track. They do a lot of hard work to get there.

"I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer."
-Megan H., CCC Volunteer

With your experience in mental health, do you see anything that’s different at CCC than other, similar services? I think the best thing about CCC that’s really unique is that it’s not fragmented so when somebody graduates from the Letty Owings Center, they still have the supports they need to go on to the next phase. They have housing, outpatient treatment, and they don’t get dumped in the system without those critical supports. That’s very unusual in the social services system and I think it’s one of the best things about CCC.

There’s almost a huge loop in that people that are super successful sometimes come back and work [with CCC], which also makes the whole culture of the program very hopeful. [Recovery] is a lifetime of work and here they see some of the staff people who are still working on it, but they’re working and they’re employed and they have homes and a life with real relationships. It’s a very hopeful place.

• • •

June Hensala

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Let’s say two-and-a-half years, to be safe.

What is your volunteer position? I get to go out for coffee! Isn’t that the best job ever? Another friend from church and I come over and pick up a couple gals, and once in a while they have children with them, and we go out and have coffee and visit. I’m not giving any advice, I’m just having coffee with these gals and having a nice time.

Was this something that you and this person started? No, this has been going on for a long time. There was this gal named Carol, who had been with LOC practically since it began, and she volunteered everywhere, but one of the things she did was take a couple mothers out for coffee with another friend. Carol died about three years ago and I had read this book about remembering people, and part of that was remembering them by action. So I’m remembering Carol when I take them out to coffee.

"I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, 'We like to have you for coffee.'"
-June H., CCC Volunteer

Had you worked with kids or families prior to your volunteership? Well, indirectly. I was a nurse and so I was trained in caring for others and noticing others. When I raised my kids, I did Cub Scouts and the like, but I’m 80 years old now, so that’s one of the things I like about going to LOC is seeing gals that are in their 20s and getting to talk to somebody that is a different age. Our society separates people so much, so I really like that contact with the younger generation.

What do you feel the benefit is for the clients who are going out to coffee? Well, often we get the gals that are just new to LOC, so they don’t have a routine yet and they’re also dealing with the early stages of recovery. So we give some encouragement, but I think the gain is really more on my part. I gain a lot out of it, really. I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, “We like to have you for coffee.” It was such a caring, wonderful thing.

Have there been any stand out moments? I’m always very impressed with how caring the girls are to each other. It’s not just the staff, the girls seem to help each other. They share, they encourage one another, and they say, “Oh, we’re buddies.” So, I think that’s helpful if you know somebody’s going through the same thing you are.

Their feeling of hope I’ve been impressed with, as well. [They’ll say], “This is a wonderful place, this is a good place. The staff is good here,” not, “Oh, this is really hard.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer? Well, I get rewarded for it. I’ve always felt a very strong trust in God all my life and I feel like God puts me places where I get the most out of it. And every day I fill up with God’s love, and I have to do that, so I can then go out and love others. And I’ve liked all the girls. At first, I thought, “Oh maybe there will be somebody there that’s a bit too wild,” but they’re not. They’ve just been wonderful girls that have experienced addiction.

I’m also in the quilting group at my church and we make quilts for all the Letty Owing Center clients. When they graduate [the program] they each get a quilt. So that keeps me involved, and it keeps the church involved as well.

And it really broadens your life scope. I’m retired and you just get isolated by that. Volunteering takes you out of your world and pushes you somewhere else. It’s nice to see a lot of good, and it’s what I’ve seen. It’s been a really positive experience.

Portland-area Black History Month Events

Feb 07, 2018

As part of Central City Concern's celebration of Black History Month, we want to share with you a number of exciting events taking place throughout February in the Portland area. Many of these events are free and appropriate for all ages. We encourage you to explore the richness of Black history by attending some of these events! Most descriptions are from the event hosts; click on the link to access the event's official page for more information.

Cascade Festival of African Films, February 2 – March 3, 2018: "A wildly popular film festival that has become synonymous with the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College. The Cascade Festival of African Films honors the art and craft of filmmaking from that continent. The movies imported for the festival draw capacity crowds each February. All films are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis." (Link)

Black History Festival NW, throughout February: The festival is a "region-wide event taking place during the month of February in different locations spanning as far east as Troutdale and west to Beaverton, south to Eugene and north to Vancouver Wa. Each weekend has an event highlighting and celebrating the African-American experience presented by African-American organizations, artists, small businesses, and leaders." (Link

Black History Film Fest hosted by St. Johns Library, throughout February: During the month of February, St. Johns Library will screen four movies that highlight and uplift the Black experience in America. (Link)

PDX Jazz Festival, February 18 through February 25: "The PDX Jazz Festival arrives each and every February to recognize Black History Month, and to remind Portlanders and our many out of town guests what a rich and robust Jazz experience we offer. With upwards of 100 paid and ticketed events over 11 days, there are ambitious programs that will warm the heart and swing your soul." (Link)

Black Arts Festival, February 17: Hosted by Reed College, celebrate Black Diasporic culture, contributions, and life with the inaugural Black Arts Festival! Free and open to the public, the festival will feature headlining artist The Last Artful, Dodgr, with opening acts Brown Calculus and Maarquii. In addition to black and brown vendors who will be selling a variety of goods including vintage clothing, jewelry, and essential oils, the events will also feature a DJ and savory Afro-Latinx eats catered by Platano Rising. (Link)

African American Read In hosted by North Portland Library, February 18: "Celebrate Black History Month with Black literature! Join us as community leaders, teachers, students, and local celebrities read from their favorite works by African American writers. Fiction and nonfiction for children, teens and adults will be featured in a special gathering of good words from great writings. Community members are also encouraged to come and share words from their favorite works." (Link)

PDX Black Film Festival, throughout February: This month-long event "aims to offer diverse perspectives and stories in an art form all too often dominated by white filmmakers. The festival features films which showcase the cinematic achievements of African American stars and filmmakers and examine the black experience in America." (Link)

Racing to Change: Oregon's Civil Rights Years, now through June 24, 2018: "Racing to Change illuminates the Civil Rights Movement in Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural and social upheaval, conflict, and change. The era brought new militant voices into a clash with traditional organizations of power, both Black and White.

"Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will engage in the examination of the repression and violence against African Americans that made the Civil Rights Movement necessary. The exhibit explores how racist attitudes, policies of exclusion, and the destruction of Black-owned neighborhoods shaped Oregon, as well as the unceasing efforts of the Black community to overcome these obstacles." (Link)

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2018 Edition

Jan 25, 2018

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we turn our attention to a volunteer who came in without a clear sense of what he wanted to do in his volunteership, but has since taken root (pun intended) in the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and created an activity that has become a fixture of the Living Room community. Hayden Buell, Living Room Team Lead, had this to say about Rob’s contributions to the Living Room:

Robert has been one of our most outstanding volunteers here in the Living Room. When he came in to volunteer he took the initiative to create a program of container gardening for our members which has grown to be one of the most asked about activities. He has gone beyond in his support of our program, often coming in to support us on days we need an extra hand or helping us get out into the community with our outings. He connects with members on a personal level and is an important part of creating our team here.

Read on to see how Rob turns Living Room thumbs green, how the activity has impacted members of the Living Room, and how it has become deeply meaningful for him.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer role?

Rob: My name is Robert Stewart and I run an indoor gardening group activity every Friday at the Living Room.

P: How did you find out about CCC and what drew you to volunteer here?

R: I’ve lived in Portland for 15 or 16 years and I had a vague idea of what Central City Concern did and I think I just cold called or cold emailed the previous volunteer coordinator, Eric. I just decided one winter that I needed to devote more of my time to serving others in the community. I hadn’t intended to do the planting stuff at all, I just wanted to be plugged in to anywhere that I could be helpful and Eric suggested checking out the Living Room. I kind of just got the lay of the land there for a couple months and developed a strong hunch that the planting activity would be something that would resonate with people.

P: So you didn’t come in with the planting idea?

R: No, no, for the first couple months I just got to know some people, did a lot of dishes, and cleaned a lot of tables, just kind of served lunch and whatnot. I wasn’t even aware at the outset that we could tailor activities, but the more time I spent there, I realized that this is something that could fit within the framework.

"I didn’t really know what to expect when I went in to it, but whatever expectations I had were exceeded many times over. It’s really been one of the best experiences of the past 10 years for me."
-Rob Stewart, CCC Volunteer

P: I understand it’s been a very popular thing since it started.

R: It’s exceeded my expectations. I began it thinking I would be lucky to get one or two people who would do it with me so I didn’t feel silly planting by myself, and that’s how it was for the first month or so: just one or two interested folks, but then I think other folks saw people were enjoying it and could see some of the fruits of their labors, because a lot of the plants we keep at the Living Room, and decided they wanted in on it. The only thing really limiting the size has been my budget, because I provide the materials, so I can use usually three to five people in a given session. And there are days when I have more that are interested, so you have to do a first-come, first-served kind of thing where people take turns.

P: I must admit, being the opposite of a green-thumb, I don’t know what indoor or container gardening is and by extension of that is how you shape your classes around that.

R: Container gardening is, I guess, a fancy word for house plants. And I want the activity to be accessible to people of all different skill levels, so I recognize that some people might think they might not have a green thumb. What I try to do is, with a decent chunk of my plants, offer the most hard to kill, fastest growing things that I can find. Some plants that can tolerate low light conditions or have a little bit more of an envelope as far as what’s going to make them thrive.

And I get the whole range of folks from people who are pretty comfortable with plants—maybe they’ve already had house plants at home or at least have taken care of them—to people who profess that they kill every plant that they try to take care of. Some of them I think I’ve converted into semi-green thumbs. I think it’s intimidating at first because they had an experience where they killed a couple plants once upon a time, but if I can give them something that’s easier to take care of, that builds confidence. I’m also there and they can ask me questions and coach them through if they’re not sure about a particular aspect of care, fertilizing or watering as a plant needs.

P: That must be really rewarding to see that growth within people through the class.

R: Yeah, I think one of the coolest things to me about it is that the main mission [of the Living Room] is to give the people an activity and a sense of belonging. I feel like it fulfills that need for an activity, but it is also a long-term project where they can nurture this plant and, provided you do so within certain parameters, you see it grow and sometimes literally blossom, and other times just get large, beautiful and green when it started as a little tiny starter. So, there’s an aspect of progression and growth that I think people enjoy. I definitely enjoy it.

P: There’s stability there, too.

"[F]olks will give the plants away as gifts and I think that can be pretty rewarding, especially when you’re at a place where you’re receiving services. It’s nice to have something that you can give back to somebody."

R: I think most people have this innate need to care for something and an easy-to-take-care-of house plant is, for a living thing, the lowest risk-to-reward option. If you don’t care for it correctly, it will die and you just plant another one, it’s not like having a dog or something like that. You have this entity that you take care of and kind of stays the same and progresses as well.

P: And there’s the aspect to it as well that folks may not have a lot that is stable in their lives, so just having something to come back to I’m sure is very meaningful as well.

R: And that was one of my initial goals was to make sure there would be no real requirements to participate. So, the way we have it is we’ll do the planting in the Living Room and for folks who might still be on the streets or in temporary housing, they can keep their plant at the Living Room and enjoy it, but other folks are more than welcome, if they have a home that they can take them to, to keep their plant at home. So, I think for the former group, it does kind of increase a sense of ownership or belonging to the Living Room. Other folks will give the plants away as gifts and I think that can be pretty rewarding, especially when you’re at a place where you’re receiving services. It’s nice to have something that you can give back to somebody.

P: Something I underestimate in my living space is the things that are extra, and how those contribute to happiness. It could be that a lot of folks that are taking plants home from your course have never been able to afford, whether through time or money, to do those extra things in their living spaces.

R: Yeah, that’s what I hear and some folks who, for example, have just gotten housing, they can take this plant home and that sort of symbolizes that they are making it their place. Something that brings a little life to a new house or apartment.

P: Have there been any stand out moments in your volunteership?

R: Just every once in a while, someone will take me aside and they’ll just volunteer how meaningful it was to them or how much they enjoy having their plant at their new apartment that they recently got. You can read from people that it’s something that they enjoy doing, but for someone to pull you aside and give a quick heart-to-heart, it’s extremely rewarding. I’ve honestly never really had that kind of experience before.

It’s a really wonderful team at the Living Room—each person brings their own unique approach to the whole community. Even in the two years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the Living Room progress into an even-more community-focused environment. It’s a really special place; there’s a lot of teamwork and trust. I think it’s a beautiful program and there need to be more like it.

P: What keeps you coming back, or what keeps you volunteering in your role?

R: The staff and the other members. I feel really fortunate. I love spending time with them. As my group activity has evolved, I do see more potential for it, so there’s a little bit of personal curiosity to what other directions I can take that approach, but predominantly it’s the people.

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

R: I would say, “Don’t hesitate.” Go talk to Peter. I didn’t really know what to expect when I went in to it, but whatever expectations I had were exceeded many times over. It’s really been one of the best experiences of the past ten years for me.

Olympia Provisions: Making First-rate Meats, Providing Second-chance Careers

Jan 23, 2018

Central City Concern (CCC) takes great care in building relationships with great employers. Our Employment Access Center assisted 1,126 job seekers in 2017, and several of them have gone to work for a fantastic partner: Olympia Provisions.

“Olympia Provisions is committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and our environment,” says Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader. “So we work with CCC to help people find new chances and new opportunities to do good work that they can be proud of. We have had great success with multiple employees who were hired with limited knowledge of meat processing, USDA factory sanitation and/or restaurant operations.”

Olympia Provisions and CCC have been working together on-and-off for about five years, placing people who may have had barriers to employment in the past such as substance use disorders, criminal justice issues or homelessness. Cheryl M. found her position at Olympia Provisions through CCC’s Employment Access Center. She describes her past work experience as “poor,” so she was especially happy to get a job as restaurant dishwasher there in August 2017.

"We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals."
-Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader

Getting a job at Olympia Provisions is a great move for anyone. Taylor says their work environment is relaxed, positive and focused on producing the best product possible, every time. “We have fun and we get it done,” he says. “We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals. There is ample room for vertical growth for those who are motivated and diligent. We offer competitive wages, generous paid time off, health benefits, an Employee Assistance Program, discounts around Portland, free shares of delicious meats and free cooked lunch every day!”

Cheryl says, “My favorite things about working there are the people and the atmosphere. I really enjoy working there a lot.”

Olympia Provisions, founded in 2009, is a team of dedicated employees who craft the finest award-winning charcuterie (prepared meats such as salami and pate) in the world and provide unrivaled customer service at five restaurant locations around Portland. “We are known in households, restaurants and grocery stores as the premier makers of authentic, old-world charcuterie. Our vision is to make the world better through food and to make people happy. We are doing this by being obsessed with quality, relentlessly pursuing mastery in our professional positions, and being committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and the environment.”

Anyone who has sampled Olympia Provision’s delicious products can taste the care and devotion the company has to their work. CCC is grateful to have them for a partner, and the feeling is mutual.

“Over the years employees who come to us from CCC have demonstrated reliability, initiative and positive can-do attitudes,” Taylor says. “As such, they have been promoted through the ranks to supervisor and management positions. We'd like to find more excellent employees like them!”

To learn more about Olympia Provisions, visit their website.

Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start

Jan 22, 2018

The following article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Hey Neighbor!, a free publication from Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN). Many thanks to NECN for recognizing and sharing the work of Central City Concern's expanding Clean Start PDX program!

• • •

Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start
By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

On a Monday morning, J.P. King starts up the engine to his pick-up truck and heads across the river from Old Town to the Inner Eastside. As the lead crew member of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods’ (NECN) pilot program, Clean Start PDX, he will spend the day making the rounds to various outdoor encampments in the inner northeast area, and working with the residents there. He cleans up abandoned camps, provides garbage bags and other cleaning supplies to active sites, and removes debris as needed. But to J.P., it’s the one-on-one contact with residents that makes the real difference, whether it’s directing people to shelters or connecting them with other resources in the city. “I know everyone in these camps by name,“ he says. “They know I’m here to help.”

The program began last year when Adam Lyons, Executive Director of NECN, was hearing from community members about the increase in trash and debris on roadsides, along with an increase in campers. “It’s a livability issue,” he says. “But it’s also a symptom of a much greater problem.” So, in partnership with Central City Concern, the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Eliot Neighborhood Association, NECN secured funding from the city to address the issue in the inner eastside core.

Based on the same model that the Clean and Safe program uses, the idea isn’t to enforce camping policies for the city, but rather to help make the city cleaner and nicer for everyone who lives here. In fewer than six months of operation, it’s making a big impact: between August and October alone, J.P. and his Clean Start PDX crew have cleaned up 149 camps which included nearly 2000 bags of trash and 779 needles, and all manner of bio-hazardous materials.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Clean and Safe and Clean Start PDX is that it’s tackling multiple issues at once. It’s not just a cleaning service for the city streets, but is in fact a job-training and skills-building program to help individuals with a history of homelessness, addiction, or incarceration build a better future. “The program is a triple win,” says Jay McIntyre, program manager for Clean and Safe and chief liaison for Clean Start. “It’s a win for our employees, it’s a win for the people experiencing homelessness, and it’s a win for these neighborhoods.”

Looking forward, NECN hopes to use this model as a template for helping other neighborhoods do the same. “We’re trying to be proactive in solving a problem that most residents say is top of their list of concerns in Portland,” says Lyons. But he is quick to point out that, in so many words, it takes a village: “This isn’t an isolated problem, or one that’s unique to Portland. It’s complex and difficult, and it’s important that we as neighbors, businesses owners, and especially city officials take charge and try solutions instead of just throwing our hands up in frustration. It’s up to all of us to make this city the one we want to live in.”

"It’s overwhelming at times, in a good way"

Jan 16, 2018

Working at Central City Coffee after nearly two-and-a-half years of recovery, Christina S. learned new skills, trained others, supported her family and built a new life. “I know myself and I love myself for the first time ever in my life, really, that I can ever remember. And it seems that things get better and better and better.”

On Mondays, she and a crew of four others prepared bags of coffee in Old Town Portland. Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays, too, were for production, with delivery throughout the Portland metro area the rest of the week. “It’s been amazing to learn all kinds of different things completely out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But also really nerve-wracking and overwhelming at first.” Training other people felt especially great: “My self-confidence, everything has been boosted, I feel just better about myself.”

Christina built up that self-confidence in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps and outpatient treatment, which she says taught her “you need to complete things, that if you sign up for something to see it out and finish it.” The same quiet confidence comes through when she speaks about parenting her five children and one grandchild now that she’s in recovery. When asked if she feels she’s a resource and support for other people, she laughs: “Yeah, which is weird.”

Although she grew up with addiction in her family, she says “nobody talked about it,” even after her father died of an overdose. As her own addiction progressed, it took away her career, her housing, and her children. “That’s when I knew I had a problem,” she says, “when I walked away from my kids.” Talking about those years is not easy for her, but she insists it’s vital to not hide addiction or keep it a secret. “We need to talk about it to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different.”

"We need to talk about [addiction] to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different."

Breaking these family patterns has been the common thread to the challenges she’s faced in recovery, which she names without hesitation: “Talking to other people. Opening up. Adjusting to my kids. Adjusting to myself.” She feels she learned the tools she needed in CCC’s outpatient treatment, while CCC’s supportive housing gave her the necessary time and space. Remembering her early recovery, she smiles and says people told her “that once I started talking, I’d get really red-faced, and I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. But then slowly but surely my voice was there. I finally had a voice.” Coming off the streets, she first found shelter in CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. From there, she moved into transitional recovery housing and then into drug-and-alcohol-free housing for families with children. That housing was crucial, she says, for her to slowly rebuild trust with her children and bring her family back together. “I feel safe there and I know that I have people I can always count on and always go to.”

Christina’s cheerful, matter-of-fact style gives way to powerful feelings when she talks about her life in recovery. “It’s emotional,” she says, “because I feel so strongly about what’s happened, and I’m so grateful and blessed that all these things have happened. And for who I am now. I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me. And it’s overwhelming at times, in a good way.”

"I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me."

Toward the end of her Central City Coffee training period, Christina joined the HealthCareers Northwest WorkSource program through CCC’s Employment Access Center. HealthCareers Northwest is a funding program that enabled Christina to return to school and earned her Certified Nursing Assistant 2 certificate. In January 2018, she quickly got a job at a local long-term acute care hospital, and is now thrilled to be working in an exciting field with plenty of career potential. “I really think I’d like to be a nurse someday,” Christina said. “I think I can do it.”

A look back at 2017 to get us dreaming bigger in 2018

Dec 29, 2017

In 2017, Central City Concern (CCC) made significant headway toward increasing the number of affordable homes in Portland, bridged service gaps with new programs, further cemented our reputation as leaders in the national conversation about how to end homelessness, and much more. But most importantly, thanks to you, CCC helped thousands of our neighbors find housing, wellness, and opportunity through our compassionate and comprehensive model of care.

Below are some highlights from the year at CCC. As you read through this snapshot of what we accomplished, we hope you will feel good about all the things you made possible.

July: Hill Park Apartments became home to 39 households in Southwest Portland.

August: Charlotte B. Rutherford Place, a 51-unit apartment building for families, broke ground.

September: Stark Street Apartments, which will provide 153 homes, broke ground.

November: The Blackburn Building—combining a clinic, pharmacy, transitional and permanent housing—broke ground.

February: Multnomah County, the City of Portland, and CCC launched the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program to help low-level drug offenders work toward recovery, find stability and avoid reoffending.

February: CCC, Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Meyer Memorial Trust together launched Flip the Script, a culturally specific reentry program that aims to reduce recidivism.

March: CCC joined forces with Health Share of Oregon and CODA, Inc. to form Wheelhouse, a program to expand Medication Supported Recovery services throughout the Tri-county area.

May: CCC Clean Start trains formerly homeless workers to help keep neighborhoods clean by removing trash and graffiti. The program works with the City of Portland’s One Point of Contact.

May: Ed Blackburn, Portland Business Alliance Community Partner of the Year

July: Town Center Courtyards family housing community, Gold Nugget Merit Award

October: Ed Blackburn and Central City Concern, National Alliance to End Homelessness Pioneers in Innovation and Excellence Award

November: Housing is Health Collaboration, Portland Business Journal Innovations in Corporate Philanthropy Award

January: After a fire displaced 98 residents of CCC's Hotel Alder building, community members rallied to send a flood of donations to meet the needs of our tenants.

August: Close to 300 runners and walkers attended Portland's first Heroes in Recovery 6K. Proceeds of the race benefited CCC and Hooper Detox.

March: The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness highlighted CCC Recovery housing.

April: CCC hosted Kimberly Johnson, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, for a visit that included a Recovery Housing “fish bowl” dialogue.

June: CCC staff members and a health care consumer hosted six informative and well-received presentations at the National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

January: Ed Blackburn, CCC's executive director since 2008, announced that he would retire later in 2017. A national search began in the spring for his successor.

August: Rachel Solotaroff, M.D., was announced as the new President & CEO for CCC. She had been with CCC since 2006, first as CCC’s Medical Director, then as Chief Medical Officer since 2014

September: Freda Ceaser was named CCC's director of Equity and Inclusion. She was previously the Director of Employment Services at CCC's Employment Access Center.

April: CCC highlighted our robust volunteer program and partnerships during National Volunteer Week.

August: CCC celebrated National Health Center Week by sharing the many ways we extend our health care work past clinic walls and directly to where people live.

The Imani Center program increased the number of people they serve with culturally responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment by 50 percent. They also held the first two graduations in the program's history.

CCC's social enterprises—Central City Coffee, the Central City Bed, On-call Staffing and CCC Clean Start—employed 80 formerly homeless clients over the year.

CCC's Recycling and Reuse Operations Center, a program that gives abandoned property a second life, processed more than 44,000 pounds of items (91% of which was kept out of the landfill) and provided nearly 700 clients with much-needed household items and clothing.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: December 2017 Edition

Dec 28, 2017

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we set out to survey our volunteer community in regard to a concept that is often very important to folks around this time of year—the idea of "home." The thought of being “home for the holidays” is central to many people’s experience at this time of year, but what that word “home” means can be very different from person to person. With that in mind, we touched based with some of our volunteer across programs to see what home meant to them.

Lara M., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: Home is a place to feel comforted and unconditionally cared for. At home we can feel regarded as individuals with our own strengths, fears and dreams. Home can be a place to feel supported, regardless of the mistakes and messes we make. Home can feel like a warm, all-encompassing hug. Physical homes go away, but what usually remains are the feelings experienced there, both the good, and the rough. In my heart, home means that I hold close not only the unconditional love I received growing up, but also the encouragement and motivation I continue to gather from friendships I’ve made along the way. When I visit that “home” of unconditional love in my heart, it bolsters my resiliency, provides courage and inspires me to share my idea of home out to the world.

Judy S., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: So, home for the holidays, for me that means being somewhere that I feel safe and comfortable and ideally with friends and family around. I just moved back to Portland a year or so ago, so before that I was living somewhere where I wasn’t close to anyone and I really felt what it was like to be all alone. So now that I’m back here it feels so good to me to just know that there are people that know me and care about me.

Helen H., EAC Administrative Volunteer: Acceptance, respect, all the things that go in to helping us feel like we belong. Feeling a part of something is important to most people, for their self-respect, for their self-esteem. I don’t think of home as a place. I’ve have never really been attached to place. I don’t know whether that’s due to my background of having moved constantly throughout my childhood, because I was raised in poverty and never owned a home, but people and community became more important to me. And, family.

Kyle G., Pharmacy Volunteer: When I think about that I think about Joe Dirt, the movie. So there’s this one person in the movie that said, “Home is where you make it.” And I think that kind of resonates with me because you don’t essentially have to be in a home that your parents own or someone owns, you just have to be surrounded by people that care about you. That’s where home is. Home is actually pretty different for me from year to year because sometimes I’m with my Dad, and sometimes I’m with my aunt, sometimes I’m living with my brother, so as long as I’m surrounded by people who care about me and look out for each other’s wellbeing that’s where home is for me.

Lana C., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: Home to me means to be a part of something that makes me feel welcomed, accepted, comforted, safe, and loved unconditionally. These feelings can only be felt due to people. Whether it’s a single person or a group of people, it doesn’t matter, but never to a physical place alone. Lucky for us that means our sense of home is never stagnant or far. It can be as close to us as our own hearts beating within our chest or in every person we meet throughout our lives, in any corner of the world.

Jen K., On-call Administrative Volunteer: To me, home means a place to return to for comfort and rest. It's where I can let my guard down and just be myself.