Ed Blackburn has been Executive Director of Central City Concern in Portland, Oregon since 2008. Central City Concern is committed to ending homelessness and helping people achieve self-sufficiency. He previously spent seven years as a neighborhood Crime Prevention Manager with the City of Portland.
Everyone needs to have choices in life; options are good. Here in Portland, Ore., we take pride in the number of choices our neighbors have for recreation, education, and all-around healthy living. Here at Central City Concern (CCC), individuals experiencing homelessness need choices too, including the ability to live in the kind of supported housing that is clinically indicated for their needs. Central City Concern’s Housing Choice model has helped us meet diverse challenges and service needs for an array of clients; our agency employs Recovery Housing as well as Housing First supported housing programs.
Since our beginning in the late 1970s, CCC has helped vulnerable individuals living on the streets who suffered from substance use disorders. We quickly recognized the value of Recovery Housing where the use of alcohol and the unlawful use of drugs by residents is prohibited, and where residents participate in programming that uses peer support to promote sobriety, health, and positive community involvement. In the 1980s, we purchased and renovated a number of buildings in Portland’s downtown area. In 1984, we formalized a Recovery Housing model with 54 units.
Today, we manage nearly 1,000 Recovery Housing units and will soon add 107 more. We offer both transitional and permanent Recovery Housing. In a recent assessment of people leaving transitional Recovery Housing, we found that 64 percent have either earned income or government benefits and entitlements. Of those who graduated treatment and moved on to permanent housing, 89 percent had maintained their new housing one year later.
Central City Concern’s staff and clients have been so passionate about the potential of Recovery Housing that we spent the past three years documenting outcomes, articulating its key components and sharing the model on a national scale. HUD recently shared this concept in a Policy Brief.
Among the key components to this model of housing:
- Entry to treatment and housing is self-initiated
- Eviction history does not exclude acceptance to housing
- Supportive services such as integrated healthcare, specialty addiction and mental health services are easily accessed either on-site or at nearby locations
- Relapse prevention programs help people maintain housing
- Tenants have “right to return” following relapse or incidents
- Tenants are referred to evidence-based supported employment and transitional employment opportunities such as structured volunteer or job trainee opportunities.
- Tenants receive referral assistance to permanent housing
- Tenants benefit from peer mentorship
We’ve found that peer mentorship is of enormous value. Peer mentors—from case managers and counselors to front desk staff members—are there every step of the way to guide and support participants in their efforts to recover and rebuild their lives. Nearly half (46 percent) of CCC employees self-identify as being in recovery and one-quarter of employees are graduates of the organization’s programs. These individuals’ personal experience with substance use treatment, incarceration and successful reintegration is critical to helping participants and showing them that success is possible.
There is no doubt Recovery Housing works. Yet as we continued to evolve and grow as an agency and expand our services to include behavioral health care, we philosophically embraced a Housing Choice model: the right kind of housing at the right time that leads to options and potential for better outcomes. CCC now operates both a low-barrier, Housing First model as well as a Recovery Housing model. Housing Choice allows individuals to select types of housing they want based on their personal needs and motivations for change. These options provide a foundation of good choices that can mark the beginning of a stable future for our clients.
We are happy to share our Recovery Housing experience and lessons learned with others; please contact Rachel Post, our policy director, or me for more information.