Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness
and achieving self-sufficiency.

Ping Pong Brings Cops and Cons to the Same Side

Dec 18, 2014

Cops and criminals, most often, find themselves working against each other, each side working toward its own ends. Peanut butter and jelly, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, or Hall and Oates they are not.

But Joel Hunter, an alum of Central City Concern treatment programs and a current CCC employee, believes that police officers and people with criminal histories can work together on the same team and achieve a common good. On Friday, December 12, he put his idea to the test.

That evening, the Matt Dishman Community Center in northeast Portland was filled with the distinct, rhythmic sounds of a ping pong ball bouncing to and fro, as it was the location of the first ever “Cops vs. Cons Ping Pong Tournament & Toy Drive,” an event that Joel created and organized.

The “cops” were represented by a handful of Portland Police officers, including an officer from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), as well as a representative from the Service Coordination Team (SCT). The “cons” in attendance were primarily alumni of CCC’s Housing Rapid Response (HRR) program and the Recovery Mentor Program, as well as a few people currently in HRR.

Joel organized the tournament to achieve several goals. First, he wanted to break the ice between police officers and the people they arrest; some alumni had actually been arrested by the very same police officers in the room. All of the “cons” are now on healthier, more constructive paths of recovery and service. Many mentor people who are new to treatment and reliant on peer relationships to stay on track.

Joel knew that despite their new outlooks, there was still apprehension among the alumni toward the police.

Ping pong was a popular activity in the HRR program and at the Volunteers of America (VOA) Day Treatment program as a way to get to know new people and form friendships. Joel figured it would be a natural way to get people to show up.

Second, Joel wanted to show police officers that their work has a positive impact on the lives of people with dark pasts. As Joel put it, “my process [to recovery] always began in handcuffs.” Bringing cops and cons together was a way for the two sides to interact and get to hear each other’s stories: the cops knew about the cons’ pasts, but this was a chance for them to get to know where they are now.

Lastly, Joel wanted to achieve a tangible good from this tournament, so he also made it a toy drive. Participants showed up with new, unwrapped toys, which were donated to CCC’s family housing program. He says that he wanted both cops and cons to “come together as human beings and do good for our community.”

That night, the feelings of opposition between cops and cons were confined to the ping pong table between players. When they weren’t facing off against each other, they talked, laughed, and got to understand each other a little more.

Joel says that this is just the beginning. Both officers and alumni enjoyed this inaugural event so much that there’s already talk about a second tournament in the near future, perhaps doubling as a canned food drive.

“Playing ping pong together humanized each side for the other,” Joel said. “Now, we know we can and want to do more together.”

You can see great photos from the “Cops vs. Cons Ping Pong Tournament & Toy Drive” on Central City Concern’s Facebook photo album.

1,034 Reasons to Celebrate

Dec 10, 2014

What do you get when a program that helps referred individuals gain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits does enough paperwork that, when stacked, would reach halfway up downtown Portland’s iconic “Big Pink” U.S. Bancorp tower?

For Central City Concern’s Benefits & Entitlements Specialist Team (BEST), that gets you exactly 1,034 successful benefits cases, and all signs pointing to that number continuing to grow.

On Friday, December 5, 2014, CCC held an event to celebrate the work of BEST, a program located in the Old Town Recovery Center that assists vulnerable individuals, many of whom live with severe disabilities, in pursuing Social Security benefits that aid in their path toward self-sufficiency.

For our 1,034 and counting clients, successful awards have meant dignity and pride in being able to meet basic needs, pay rent, access healthcare, and engage meaningfully with their communities because of the financial stability that SSI and SSDI benefits provide. In total, these benefits have also contributed $30 million to the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity. So what better time to pause, recognize the work that has gone into surpassing this milestone, and thank the various partners who have supported BEST’s work along the way?

Ed Blackburn, CCC’s Executive Director, kicked off the celebration, giving guests an overview of how the BEST program was a natural way to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. The work and research of people like Mellani Calvin and Rachel Post (now CCC’s public policy director), combined with early support from the Portland Housing Bureau, Providence Health & Services, and the Kaiser Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation, helped establish BEST as a full-fledged program in 2008. BEST then contracted with Multnomah County to administer its Homeless Benefits Recovery project, which won a National Association of Counties Achievement Award in 2013.

Kas Causeya, BEST’s program manager, pulled the curtain back to detail the many things that BEST must do for each case. Applying for benefits, he said, is an incredibly complex process, especially when the client is cognitively impaired. BEST does the work of gathering extensive information about the client, interviewing the client and others who know more about their situation, and coordinating and paying for medical and psychiatric evaluations. Staff take all of that information to write a summary that is filed with the total application.

Though a lot of what BEST does revolves around paperwork and processes, several family members of BEST clients spoke to remind us how deeply personal BEST’s work often ends up being. Willa, whose brother was referred to BEST, and Corina, whose son became a BEST client, both spoke to how thankful they were for BEST and all the individuals and organizations that make BEST’s work possible. Willa and Corina both spoke about the acute worry they had about their family members’ potentially falling into poverty, but also about the immense relief brought on by the approval for benefits. Both mentioned the warmth, dignity, thoroughness, and dedication with which the BEST staff worked with and advocated for their family member. Willa’s brother and Corina’s son are now living in stable situations!

Daniel Perry, a BEST staff member, told the event attendees that the amount of paperwork going into each case only scratches the surface on how complicated and intense cases can be. He gave the example of a particularly tough client who, along with an extensive history of homelessness, had proven to be challenging to work with not only at Old Town Recovery Center, but other service agencies throughout the area. The client had applied for benefits once before on his own, but his substance abuse kept him from clearing the sobriety requirement to receive assistance. Exacerbating the instability of his situation were mobility, memory, and concentration impairments, likely from multiple traumatic brain injuries he had incurred.

As this client was engaged in multiple points along CCC’s continuum of care, Daniel, along with his client’s healthcare providers, decided that if there were ever a time to help someone get clean and sober – to position themselves to receive the care and benefits they needed – this was the time to do it.

Through Daniel’s relentless dedication, his client was able to continue his primary and behavioral care, accessed Central City Concern housing, and was connected with support to help him maintain his sobriety. Daniel worked with the client to complete his benefits application, which was just recently approved! Daniel made it clear that the complexity and intensity of BEST cases is offset by the community of staff all working toward the wellbeing of clients. “The work we do,” Daniel said,” We don’t just do it in isolation. It’s a team effort.”

George Wall, a local attorney who has been a legal advisor to BEST since the very beginning, spoke for a few minutes to share some surprising numbers. Whereas the national average for Social Security benefits applications is 34% (and 14% for “reconsidered” cases), applications submitted through BEST have an 89% approval rate. George also announced that BEST will be presenting at the National Association of Disability Examiners conference in 2015 – a sign that others nationwide are noticing BEST’s work.

Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...

Dec 05, 2014

For many folks who celebrate Christmas, making family memories during the holidays revolves around the Christmas tree. Whether it’s driving out to a tree farm to cut down a Noble Fir, trotting out the box containing the trusty artificial tree, hanging lights and ornaments, or gathering around it on Christmas morning to open gifts, the tree is often found at the center of these family traditions.

However, for families living in Central City Concern’s family housing, getting a Christmas tree falls down the priority list. Instead, families focus their resources and attention on meeting basic goals – their recovery, employment, education, and health – on the way to finding stability. The work and determination to achieve self-sufficiency doesn’t take a break, even during the holiday season.

Knowing this, Justin Timms and Frog Pond Farm, a family-owned Christmas tree farm in Wilsonville, stepped up in a huge way to spread holiday cheer to our families. Not only did they offer our FAN housing families nearly 80 trees at an incredibly generous rate, they bound them and drove into Portland with a trailer to hand-deliver all the trees.

Because of their generosity, every family living in our five family housing sites who wants a Christmas tree will have one to put up. To decorate. To gather around. 

To make new and lasting family memories.

Thank you so much to Justin and Frog Pond Farm for making the holiday that much brighter!

• • •

You can thank Frog Pond Farm, too, even as they continue to support CCC! Take a fun and family-friendly outing to Frog Pond Farm to cut down your Christmas tree, visit their petting zoo (camels, llamas, alpacas, goats, and rabbits – oh my!), and purchase gifts that include llama and alpaca wool items, candles, and holiday décor. Mention Central City Concern or present this flyer and Frog Pond will donate 10% of your purchase to CCC.

The farm is located at 2995 SW Advance Rd., Wilsonville, OR 97070. They are open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. More information can be found at their website: https://www.facebook.com/thefrogpondfarm

Central City Bed®

Central City Bed® - unfriendly to bed bugs, stackable, easy to clean and reuse. Appearing at national trade shows. Check Central City Bed for details. Learn more »

Give!Guide! is Live!

Central City Concern is in Give!Guide for the second year in a row! Participate in this community of year-end giving to CCC and many other worthy local nonprofits and receive great incentives! Learn more »

Central City Coffee

Through craft roasting coffee in Portland, OR., Central City Coffee supports the clients and mission of Central City Concern. Central City Coffee now available at local retailers! Learn more »
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