By Jack Rubinger
Lines for Life is casting a wide net to reach Oregonians in need of community resources and assistance. The program is driven by the devastating impact of forest fires and the pandemic on our daily lives.
The COVID-19 & Oregon Wildfire Outreach Program (COWOP) was developed to increase resource accessibility for some of Oregon’s most under-served populations (including, but not limited to Hispanic, Black, refugee/immigrant, tribal and LGBTQ+ communities), as well as those living in rural/frontier counties.
Mina Meman is leading a team of 30+ professionals to handle calls seven days a week. The organization has ambitious goals.
“We’re hoping to reach 14,000 people,” Meman said. “We built the program, bottom up, and that entailed hiring people, refining the program in response to what we learned about the community needs, verifying more than 2,400 resources and ultimately building a database of resources.
“We’re getting calls because people, especially seniors, refugees, Black communities, Hispanic communities, folks living in rural areas and migrant workers, need help and it’s hard to find one place that can put you in touch with multiple resources.”
“We are all fortunate to work with and for her,” said Michael Watkins, an Outreach Specialist. “We don’t just toss our contacts a blind resource, pat them on the back and send them on their way. We follow up with them to ensure they received the help and assistance they seek and if they are unsuccessful, we walk with them, until we help them to resolution.”
Lines for Life began in 1993 as the Oregon Partnership, formed by three non-profits. The organization’s early focus was on the prevention of substance abuse. COWOP’s work aligns with creating low barrier accessibility, utilizing inclusive and vetted resources, as well as operating as a referral program.
With respect to the wildfires, 2020 and current, Lines for Life’s COWOP team is providing firefighters, first responders and community members resources and support for the upcoming fire season, as well as those individuals still recovering from the fires last year.
“We’re getting more calls every day because people are getting retraumatized by these wildfires and fears of evacuations,” Meman said. “By design, the folks that handle these calls are clinically trained listeners who can deal with extreme distress and build rapport with callers, so they know we’re here for them.”
“This work can be deeply exhausting and feel relentless, and we’re here to offer support,” said Ann Albrich, a COWOP Community Liaison.
Lines for Life offers crisis and peer hotlines as well as peer-led Zoom-based Affinity Groups. Several of these wellness groups are oriented around specific communities, i.e. first responders, educators, LGBTQ+, etc.
The program offers referrals to resources such as rental assistance, food, utilities, vaccinations and COVID-19 testing assistance.
Also provided are one-on-one emotional support, education about the psychological impacts of disasters, and coaching on building community networks.
The service is free and confidential, and there’s no eligibility criteria. Anyone who needs support, gets support.
“We’ve been getting out into the community, driving over 1,000+ miles some weekends, and setting up booths at events, tables in other organizations/agencies to get the word out. It’s not a robotic process; our team is compassionate and genuinely committed to helping each person that trusts us to do so,” Meman said.
“I’m so proud of my team. We’ve had more than 1,700 encounters and have helped 500+ individuals over the phone. These numbers are excluding the in-person interactions from the outreach our team conducts statewide.”
“The people with this organization are so wonderful,” adds Albrich, who fosters relationships with key agencies. “There’s a lot of isolation and disenfranchisement out there. One of the most highly requested resources is for rental and housing assistance. It is great to see how information can help save lives when it gets into the hands of people.”
“Our housing crisis in Oregon is a recurring theme on our calls,” Meman added. “I have witnessed firsthand the impact that my team is having with callers who are part of the homeless community finding shelter, sometimes for the night, other times for up to a month.
“That time can make a huge difference and enable an individual to feel supported, focus on their other basic needs, and to become more self-sufficient. We can’t make guarantees, but we are committed to doing everything we can to connect fellow Oregonians with the resources they need.”
Lines for Life offers other resources, such as a Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Senior Loneliness Helpline, Alcohol & Drug Helpline, Military/Veteran helpline, Youthline, Racial Equity Support Line and Oregon Behavioral Health Support Line. Bilingual call takers are available to offer support.
Online see cowop2021.org, by phone 800.273.8255 or 971.420.1028, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Lines for Life