NTJN Member Spotlight: Central City Concern
By Jonathan Philipp, Research and Policy Assistant, National Transitional Jobs Network
This month we interviewed Rachel Post, L.C.S.W., Public Policy Director at Central City Concern (CCC), an NTJN Member in Portland, Oregon. CCC serves over 13,000 individuals who are affected by poverty, homelessness, chronic health and behavioral health conditions. CCC provides affordable housing options integrated with employment, healthcare, and recovery services. CCC’s employment program focuses on finding individuals jobs in the community at a wide range of places from Subway to Hewlett Packard. CCC has a staff of over 650 people, about half of whom are graduates of CCC programs! Read on to learn more.
Q: Rachel, Can you tell me a little bit about Central City Concern’s mission and history?
A: Central City Concern works to provide comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness and achieving self-sufficiency. This is achieved through direct access to housing, integrated healthcare services, development of peer mentorship, and attainment of income through employment or accessing benefits. Through these four elements, CCC enables individuals to become productive citizens who are able to give participate in and give back to the community.
Central City Concern (CCC) was founded in 1979 and has grown from a staff of 40 to over 650. Originally CCC focused on addiction treatment, but realized early on that safe housing was key to permanently ending homelessness and successful recovery. To deal with that need, CCC created a housing program that has attracted national attention. In the early 1990s, CCC recognized a need for employment programs to help individuals achieve full self-sufficiency, and so we started an employment training and work opportunity program. Since that time, CCC has stayed true to its goal of helping people experiencing homelessness, building a track record of success while always looking for new ways to expand and help those in need.
Q: Why is it important that we help people exiting homelessness achieve self-sufficiency through employment?
A: People who are experiencing homelessness have often suffered trauma, abuse, neglect, and/or chronic health conditions. Communities often turn their faces both literally and metaphorically away from those living in on our streets and in shelters which results in the individuals feeling detached from society. Employment can help reverse these feelings by providing a sense of pride and purpose. Housing for people experiencing homeless is also important, but housing alone is not enough. The ultimate goal for most people is to achieve their maximum potential, and in the U.S. employment is seen as a major part of that goal. Through employment, people experiencing homelessness are able to have a reason to exist, to connect with others relationally, to reconnect with healthy family members and to support themselves financially; experiences we all need to thrive!
Q: On your website you list four elements for success. Can you explain how your programs achieve success through your element of “attainment of income through employment or accessing benefits”?
A: Through our employment and benefit attainment programs we have helped thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness become more self-sufficient. We have a nationally recognized benefit acquisition team that is able to help individuals acquire their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, a process that is often tricky to navigate alone. This team of experts works with SSA and the State Disability Determination Services office to help individuals gather a complete file of all records documenting disability. On average, our team helps individuals receive benefits within 90 days and 90% of the benefits are awarded on the first attempt. Both these numbers are extremely high when compared to the average nationwide.
In regards to employment, CCC uses the Individual Placement and Support model and applies it to individuals exiting homelessness who often have substance use disorders and struggle to overcome the stigma of prior criminal justice convictions. This last year CCC successfully placed more than 500 people in competitive employment across 15 different sectors at over 300 different employers in 53 zip codes. There is no pre-assessment of the individuals, when they are ready and willing to work CCC will help find them a job that most interests them. The type of jobs that CCC looks to place people in are jobs that pay at least minimum wage, have chances for advancement, and are in the community. Through these employment programs individuals are able to earn a stable income and transition from supportive housing into their own permanent housing. It is a very important goal of the employment program to allow for this move to permanent housing because it opens up more spots in the supportive housing for those still on the streets.
Q: Can you tell me about your Clean & Safe program?
A: Our Clean & Safe program is separate from our supported employment program. Unlike our supported employment that focuses on jobs in the community, Clean & Safe provides individuals 6 months of transitional employment at our 22 facilities. Some individuals who have been disconnected from the workforce and have extensive criminal histories feel more comfortable and safe starting out working with others who also have the same experiences. This six month program helps teach people employment soft skills such as conflict resolution and the importance of being on time. Upon completion of Clean & Safe, many participants choose to apply for permanent jobs here at CCC and may work their way up into supervisory or manager positions as a means of giving back to their community of individuals in recovery.
Q: Your Peer providers are very unique and successful. Can you please tell me about it?
A: Similar to other service providers we have all the usual staff of counselors, managers, and health care professionals. Where we are different is our peer case managers. These are individuals who have experienced homelessness, addictions and/or incarceration. They have graduated from treatment and choose to work helping those who have not yet achieved these goals. Our peer case managers are salaried employees, typically working full time and accessing the same benefits package that non-recovering staff do. These individuals have reestablished their lives and through being a peer case manager they are able to connect with individuals experiencing homelessness and show them that there is a way out. The peer case managers help individuals and their families with a wide range of services including: helping individuals connect with the 12-Step and other recovery support programs; finding clean and sober activities in the community for them to participate in; assisting them in navigating resources such as health clinics; helping obtain necessary forms of identification; and many other of the other components involved in helping them put their lives back together. Peer providers are integral to the success of the work we do at CCC. We just wouldn’t be the organization we are without those who have firsthand experience delivering and designing our programs.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges Central City Concern sees moving forward in the fight against homelessness?
A: Two of the biggest challenges that I see relate to securing adequate funding for programming we know works and outdated beliefs many people hold about those experiencing homelessness. Money is always a challenge, but we know that the model CCC has works and also reduces long-term costs to emergency service systems, criminal justice systems and child welfare systems. If there was additional federal funding for these programs it would be of great help, but the support is currently not there and the state doesn’t always recognize the successes these programs have in addressing homelessness. Funding aside, the biggest challenge we face is the outdated misconception that people have about individuals experiencing homelessness and the resulting stigma against hiring those working to escape homelessness and create a stable life for themselves. What people need to understand is that those exiting homelessness can work with the right kinds of supports and coordination with housing and healthcare providers. This isn’t rocket science. We know what works and we know it is both the humane thing to do and that it saves a lot of money.