Originally from New Orleans, Courtney relocated to Oregon after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
After years of heroin addiction, she checked herself into a methadone clinic where she was given a pregnancy test before treatment. “It was quite a surprise when it turned up positive,” recalled Courtney. “I knew that getting sober meant even more now if I was going to bring a life into this world.”
Tucker was born in 2019 and soon after, Courtney went in and out of detox, split with her husband and lost her apartment. In a search for housing and stabilization, she found the Letty Owings Center through the Central City Concern (CCC) website. “The staff was incredibly supportive. I was really trying to come to grips with the fact that I am a human worthy of care from other humans. I remember feeling a lot of love there.”
Moms Helping Moms
Since 1989, Letty Owings Center (LOC) has helped mothers become sober, healthy and hopeful about the future. It’s a safe, inclusive environment for women to live with their children while in treatment for substance use disorders. LOC moms are able to stay with their children who might otherwise be placed in foster care. In 2022, LOC served 112 moms and 87 children, including 16 babies born while their moms were in the program.
According to the LOC Director Tina Bialas, “Those of us who work with these women and children every day see the pain, fear and trauma they’re battling in their recovery process, and we also see how their mothering blossoms and grows as they stabilize and begin to feel safe.”
Some of the staff are in recovery themselves or have a loved one who has struggled with addiction. “There’s a lot of patience and understanding that takes place at LOC,” said Courtney. “LOC helped me feel like I wasn’t the only one in the whole world who’s ever been through anything like this. We’d relate to one another. You become pretty comfortable with these people after you’ve lived with them for several months. LOC became our home.”
Tucker, a high-energy three-year old, spent much of his time at LOC running up to the doors of residents to give them hugs. “Children begin to get comfortable and regain security in their relationships and environment, and the LOC staff are blessed by their hugs and smiles,” Tina said. She recalled, “I always loved hearing Tucker as he ran towards me down the hall happily calling ‘Tima! Tima!’ and saying to his mom, ‘It’s my friend Tima!’”
Hope, Healing and Community
Women stay at LOC for an average of six months where they participate in a structured recovery program involving individual and group counseling, life skills classes, art therapy and communal chores. When they first enter, they’re assigned a case manager who works with them throughout the program on accessing resources as well as providing support in attending court hearings, and medical appointments.
LOC residents also work with the program’s mental health counselor, Amy Simpson. “Our moms come to treatment with an abundance of losses and traumas they’ve not had the opportunity to process, so they struggle with a great deal of grief.” Amy’s art therapy program provides a safe environment to process grief and loss. Through the combination of creating art and practicing breathing techniques, she is helping them improve their ability to regulate emotions and tolerate distress. “I enjoyed every second of Amy’s art therapy class,” Courtney said. “I learned a lot about myself. I learned to embrace my own self-doubt and use it as a learning tool to help to make myself better.”
The local community has also rallied to support the mothers and children at LOC. Donors choose to dedicate gifts in support of this unique program—in particular, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church has been a long-time partner. Most recently, a group of donors, including US Bank Foundation, PNC Foundation and the Benson Family Foundation provided funds for replacing the furniture in residents’ rooms to promote a positive, healing environment. And individuals make a difference by donating to CCC and directing their gift to benefit women in recovery.
Courtney worked with CCC staff to find a temporary studio apartment at Laura’s Place, a property exclusively for women who successfully complete the program at LOC. There, she receives continued case management and attends a weekly group meeting designed to foster ongoing connection between residents.
During this transition, Housing Specialist Amy Borton is working on finding Courtney and Tucker long-term housing. “We’re trying to find them a two-bedroom apartment so they can begin a new chapter in their lives,” says Amy. Courtney is participating in a pilot program through OHSU offering housing assistance as a Medicaid benefit to clients on the Oregon Health Plan. This program is bridging the gap between housing and healthcare, helping inform the rollout of Oregon’s 1115 Medicaid Demonstration Waiver, which will provide services like rental assistance for populations in need.
“I know now that as long as I work at something every single day and I work with others, I can live a good life and I can be a good parent,” Courtney said. A lover of plants and nature, Courtney is considering going back to her original career in landscaping. However, after experiencing the care of supportive recovery staff, she is also interested in pursuing peer mentor work to help others on their road to recovery.
We wish all of our LOC moms a happy Mother’s Day!