Central City Concern’s Significant Role in the Homeless Crisis

By Beatrice Liebrecht

In the past decade, Portland has seen an increase in homelessness of around 65 percent. At the same time, the city has spent nearly $2 billion on affordable housing development and similar programs, according to Portland.gov. Despite those efforts, long waiting lists prevail for individuals who are seeking affordable housing. Central City Concern (CCC), a non-profit organization located and operating for the past 45 years in Portland, is taking another approach to end homelessness—offering extensive opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, specifically by employment.
According to CCC’s website, “[we are] ending homelessness by treating the whole person, as a person. Each year, more than 13,000 people turn to us for compassionate support to become self-sufficient and productive.” Each client has unique needs, so CCC offers three programs to facilitate them along their individual employment preparedness pathways.
Community volunteer corps are an option for participants to build soft skills and promote self and community enhancement. The skills they learn allow them to more easily rejoin the workforce and community. This serves about 400 people annually, usually those who are fresh out of CCC’s detoxification center. CCC offers various services to recovery such as substance use treatment through primary care, recovery groups and even one-on-one counseling and peer support; this way clients have a choice in their path to recovery.
From there, clients are referred to the employment access center (EAC), staffed by employment specialists such as Angelo Polvorosa, a speaker at CCC’s recent panel discussion, “Inside the Mission: More Than a Paycheck.” This is where one-on-one services are implemented, helping formerly homeless clients compete for living wage jobs. Polvorosa shared that CCC’s EAC “services are referral based, but there’s not a single person that doesn’t walk through that door that doesn’t get an answer or pointed in the direction for the right answer.”
Finally, social enterprises provide low-barrier employment chances that provide living-wage jobs, converge community needs and build clients’ resumes and work histories. These financially viable social enterprises enable CCC to carry out its mission successfully. Clean Start and Central City Staffing, two of the most prominent, employ graduates of CCC’s programs and ultimately profits are reinvested into CCC’s programs and improvements.
Just recently, CCC launched their new three-year plan. In a three-part conversation series, “Inside the Mission,” they plan and have already discussed with leaders, experts and partners who play significant roles in launching their approach. The overall aim is straightforward and one we can all collectively support—to end homelessness and guarantee a future for all Oregonians that will be healthier, more equitable and even more resilient.
At the most recent event, four panelists, Polvorosa; CCC’s Director of Development, Dana Kleinhesselink; CCC’s Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Sean Hubert; and Branch Manager, Andrea Sepulveda, spoke. At this free event, they discussed the capacity for employment to promote access to opportunity, stability and rehabilitation. A common theme of their discussion was that, yes, housing is fundamental, but it does not repair the social aspect which we all rely on. We must have a longer-term solution to decision-making changes, and people can get out of homelessness, not fall back into it.
Hubert had much to say about employment as a constructive intervention. “It increases someone’s housing stability, it reduces social isolation and improves socialization. It has positive impacts on health and wellbeing…in mental health very specifically. And for people with a substance use disorder, it improves recovery engagement, and reduces the chance of relapse.”
There were three specific headlines the group tackled, the first being that employment is one of the most effective interventions one can make in homelessness. The second is that employment is also one of the most cost-effective interventions. Hubert explained, “The average cost to get someone into employment, it’s $3-$5,000. That’s about half of what we spend just to shelter somebody for a single month.” Finally, when talking about the homeless programs that contributors are paying for, employment is the one aspect that few fund. CCC’s approach and mission place a large emphasis on these factors, highlighting how much more employment does for one attempting to get out of homelessness than most other interventions.
Although two of the four panelists were higher-ups, CCC provided various perspectives as both Polvorosa and Sepulveda were homeless and went through CCC’s programs, eventually getting out of homelessness and receiving jobs through and within CCC. Polvorosa opened up about his experience, stating he “didn’t want to go meet with somebody that could help me put a resume together, things that I could do myself…I had an employment specialist, I had a parent mentor, I had a housing specialist, I had my case manager, and I had my counselor. I mean, I could go on and on with the specialists I had. In the long run, I was really scared, I was really worried, and I didn’t think it could help me at all. Now, as I meet folks, I try to keep that in mind and try to [help them] realize I’m not [their] probation officer.” Working for CCC, Polvorosa can pay forward the services that helped him and can change and save lives.
In all, CCC is changing the method of tackling the homeless crisis within Portland, and hopefully, other organizations will follow in their footsteps, as employment seems to be a long-lasting and effective approach with the most positive outcomes for clients involved.

Panelists at “Inside The Mission: More than a Paycheck” (L to R): Dana Kleinhesselink, Sean Hubert, Andrea Sepulveda and Angelo Polvorosa. Photo by Scarlett Aguilar.

Central City Concern’s Significant Role in the Homeless Crisis

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