Image: Loris Lora

The Garlington Health Center is probably not what you picture when you hear the words mental health facility. The sky-blue walls are lit up by a flood of sunshine from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the end of every hall and along the walls of every room, with no fluorescent lights in sight. The lush vegetation and cedar trees surrounding the building are visible wherever you look. In short, you never feel confined.    

This sparkling facility in the Eliot neighborhood in Northeast is the newest venture from 35-year-old Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. The organization provides health and housing services for Oregonians struggling with mental illness, addiction, and poverty, at 75-plus facilities around the state.

Garlington’s purpose? To consolidate each and every service for the individuals they serve. This means primary and behavioral health care, community wellness (including yoga, movement classes, and even cooking classes), a pharmacy, and 52 affordable housing units—all in one place.

“Most of our clients haven’t accessed primary care as easily as others,” says Jim Hlava, Cascadia’s VP of housing. “So the biggest thing is that access to service is simple. With all practitioners on the same property, they’re talking and collaborating rather than sending clients down the street for some service we don’t offer.”

Garlington Health Center

With this ease of access for their clients in mind, they’ve incorporated “trauma-informed care” into all facets of Garlington even down to the architecture. The building (named for the late Northeast Portland pastor and social activist Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr., beloved across communities as an advocate for the city’s underserved) emphasizes natural light, open space, and warm colors to help the organization’s clients—many of whom have spent time on the streets or in prison—feel welcome. 

Cascadia also implemented “integrated housing” at Garlington, a first for the organization, with 10 units for people with mental illness, eight for veterans experiencing homelessness, and the remaining 33 for people who qualify through Portland’s N/NE Preference Policy, which gives priority to current and former N/NE Portland residents (many of whom have been displaced by gentrification). This mixture of populations is to “help the residents better integrate into their community,” according to Hlava.

The project also sets an important precedent for Cascadia’s future efforts. “This is a highlight program,” explains Hlava. “It’s a model for us to build on at our other locations.”


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