Ed Blackburn is the Executive Director of Central City Concern in Portland, Oregon, a SAMHSA grantee that provides pathways to self-sufficiency through active intervention in poverty and homelessness. In a conversation with HRC Writer, Wendy Grace Evans, Ed talks about what inspires hope in his daily work.
What gives me hope is when I see a family that has been reunited. This is a very practical kind of hope. The children are happy because they are with their parents who have overcome substance use and trauma. To see that kind of happiness certainly motivates me.
I am also amazed to see a person who has experienced homelessness for a long time move into housing and find a sustainable job, or to see a person who has been disabled come back to health. I have the opportunity to see the communities that people build together as active citizens, attending city meetings, and that is my constant source of hope. Hope is a powerful response, and the experience of transformation is a powerful antidote to some of the political negativity that can surround the struggle to get funding support for safety net services and housing, as the news isn’t always good on that front.
When you can continue to see hope in humans, it helps to sustain our work. Angela is a single mother who had been living on the streets for years. She lost her baby to foster care, but once she was able to get into Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox Center, she was able to be reunited with her child. She joined our program for families in recovery, is now working, and has gone back to school. I had the privilege of hearing her story and meeting her. I will never forget her story. It was inspiring and a clear reminder of why we are doing what we are doing.
There was also a young man I knew who was heavily involved in street drug dealing. He had been in and out of the criminal justice system. After a couple of times, he entered into our Recovery Mentor Program. Three mentors run the program and mentor others. He has done very well and is now involved in our community volunteer corps to help people who are recovering from substance use. We have teams in the community working on projects for eighty dollars a month for a few hours a week to improve senior centers, parks, recycling centers, and to work with Habitat for Humanity and other small non-profits. Eighty-two percent of participants complete the program. They also work with Supported Employment and serve as inspiring examples to others.
The endless creativity that people have to solve serious problems, to heal people in the community, and to lead the way towards successful solutions demonstrates a limitless spirit. It is great to be a part of something so all encompassing. At Central City Concern we have approximately 650 employees. Fifty percent of our employees are in recovery from substance use and homelessness. I have the gift of participating in an organization that has the highest sense of commitment to its mission.
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