Despite how it’s often depicted, homelessness in Portland is not a homogeneous issue with one simple solution. On an individual level, factors such as substance abuse or serious mental illness play an evident role, but on a larger and somewhat less tangible scale, insufficient affordable housing and institutional racism create a difficult setting for many to stay afloat—and off the streets.
It’s nonprofit Central City Concern’s mission to reshape this environment, fostering a change in our city that’s not only impactful, but long-term. To do so, they utilize a multipronged approach.
“CCC focuses on four areas,” explains Laura Recko, Associate Director of Communications and Donor Relations. “Providing direct access to housing, which supports lifestyle change; attainment of income through employment and/or accessing benefits; integrated health care services that are highly effective in engaging people who are often alienated from mainstream systems; and the development of peer relationships that nurture and support personal transformation and recovery.”
While there are existing resources in place, to meet the demand, which has been greatly intensified by the pandemic, literally means building from the ground up. Since 1989, Walsh Construction has partnered with CCC as general contractor for 16 community-focused projects, including three of their most recent—The Blackburn Center, Cedar Commons, and The Westwind Apartments—presenting pathways to self-sufficiency through active intervention in poverty and homelessness.
Part of the nationally recognized Housing is Health initiative, The Blackburn Center was funded by a coalition of local health organizations, adding 382 affordable homes in strategically targeted neighborhoods in East Portland. There, those in need can receive primary care, mental health counseling, medication-supported recovery, hepatitis C treatment, and more, all under one roof.
Only a mile away, Cedar Commons became the newest CCC facility when construction was completed in May 2021, three weeks early and under budget, despite the added challenges of Covid-19 and wildfires. It’s also the first development to offer clinical services and support for residents facing more unique and complex mental health conditions, with an on-site team of two Qualified Mental Health Professionals, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Case Manager, all specializing in trauma-informed care.
“The SRO (Single Resident Occupancy) and studio units were specifically designed to serve very-low-income individuals, many of whom are coming directly out of homelessness,” explains Project Manager Meghan Herteg. “A number of features in the units accommodate the fact that many of the residents may not have lived indoors for a period of time: floor drains in all of the bathrooms, shutoffs for the stoves if the fire alarm sounds, and blackout curtains for residents who need to sleep during the day to accommodate night-shift work schedules.” Inviting, shared kitchens and common areas promote a sense of community and societal reintegration as well.
“Working on affordable housing is always special,” adds Herteg. “Knowing that we are creating something that will help to improve lives is an incredible gift. Especially during the past year, when the homeless situation has become so much worse and so much more visible in the Portland area, knowing that we are building homes for 60 individuals to make their lives better is incredibly satisfying—and makes me eager to do more.”
And at The Westwind Apartments, which broke ground in July, CCC plans to serve the most vulnerable in the heart of Old Town Portland with 100 new units, emphasizing members of the BIPOC community, who experience disproportionately high rates of chronic homelessness. “CCC is partnering with the Native American Recovery Association and CCC’s Imani Center to offer culturally specific programming for Native and African American individuals at The Westwind,” says Recko.
All of these buildings will boost the signal for CCC’s various rehabilitation programs, including Clean Start and The Community Volunteer Corps.
“Established in 1996, Clean Start provides trash removal and cleaning services to the Portland metro area,” Recko says. “Over the span of six months, Clean Start trainees receive peer mentoring while learning job skills and building confidence for future employment opportunities.” Throughout the process, they have access to CCC’s full gamut of wraparound services, and a majority of participants leave with long-term employment and housing.
Regularly the first step for folks coming out of incarceration, The Community Volunteer Corps consists of 80 hours of required community service and can often be a stepping stone to Clean Start. Though it was put on hold during the pandemic, it’s now on the verge of restarting.
To learn more about Central City Concern’s services and programs, visit centralcityconcern.org.