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Love is Our Care Plan

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

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“We weave love into our work every day.”

— Eowyn Rieke

When Central City Concern’s Blackburn Center opened a year ago, it was the culmination of many years of big dreams and hard work.

CCC aimed to have a place where people could access unified health care, housing and employment services, all under one roof.

“It was truly audacious,” said Dr. Eowyn Rieke, Blackburn Services Director. “Heart and commitment were our guiding principles from the beginning.”

Now the building is a year old, and the vision it contains is coming to fruition.

Even with COVID-19 precautions in place, Blackburn is bustling from top to bottom. Blackburn, like other CCC programs, has remained open to clients throughout the pandemic — albeit moving some services online or to the phone instead of face-to-face.

There are 124 alcohol and drug-free housing units, including both apartments and also smaller units with shared living spaces, as well as additional units for people recovering from illness and injury who would otherwise be homeless. There is a primary health care clinic, including pharmacy services and mental health care — and a robust medication supported recovery program, which serves hundreds of clients who are recovering from opioid addiction.

Blackburn Center is committed to increasing equity and access to care, especially for those who are Black, Indigenous, people of color and LGBTQ+ — a particularly crucial issue during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected these communities. Blackburn has been flying the intersectional Pride and Black Lives Matter flags as symbols of the organization’s commitment to social change. Clinical Services Manager Holly Herrera said, “Seeing those flags when I arrive each morning, I couldn’t be prouder.”

For people in recovery, no matter where they are in the journey, every day without drug use is a good day.

“That’s a day of no toxins in their body, of not having to hustle,” said Rieke.

And because Blackburn offers wrap-around services, people who come in for recovery support often stay for other types of care. On a recent day at the walk-in recovery clinic, four new clients began their journey to recovery in one afternoon — and three of them became primary care patients as well.

“We can help them figure out what they need on their own terms,” said Rieke. “We tell them to come back no matter what. We say, ‘We care about you, and we want to work with you.’”

For many patients, that’s a surprising message.

“They say, ‘That’s gonna take a while to get used to,’” she said.

That’s where Clinical Services Manager Holly Herrara and the primary care staff come in. They keep respect and compassion at the forefront of their work in order to reduce the stigma and shame that their clients often face elsewhere.

Located in East Portland at Northeast 122nd and Burnside Street, Blackburn Center is a vibrant community hub. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blackburn team is working hard to ensure client safety, maintain infection prevention standards, and support clients on their journey to health, recovery and self-sufficiency.

“When a client says this is the first place where they have felt seen, heard and respected, I consider that a big win,” said Herrara.

When Blackburn was being built, Community Manager Andrea Hood would drive past the construction site every day. She was on her way to work at another CCC program, but she found herself caught up in the excitement and anticipation of the new site. Now in charge of housing and occupancy, Hood sees it working. A client who moved through recovery, primary care services and supportive housing at Blackburn recently signed a lease on a studio apartment — hopefully, a permanent home. “He had tears in his eyes,” said Hood. “He had never had an apartment of his own before.”

“There is definitely some magic happening here,” Hood said.

Looking ahead, Rieke sees more growth and change for Blackburn. It’s a dynamic place, and the teams there are continually refining programs and processes to better meet the community’s needs. Efforts to keep clients and staff safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact too.

Rieke, Herrara and Hood — and the rest of the Blackburn staff — agree that Blackburn’s future plans will be built on human connection.

“We weave love into our work every day,” said Rieke. “We’re seeing the dream start to manifest. People are connecting. They’re getting better.”

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