Multnomah County opens addiction recovery house for LGBTQ+
Equality, in metaphor at least, means everyone gets a new pair of shoes. Equity is when the shoe fits.
It's that vision of culturally-specific care that animates Multnomah County's new sober living house, the first-ever in Oregon tailored for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and non-binary community, as well as people with HIV.
"Getting clean and sober is hard enough," said County Chair Deborah Kafoury during a dedication ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 11. "Treatment is far more effective — in fact it's only effective when people feel safe."
The two-story plus basement Tudor-style home, located on a residential stretch of East Burnside Street in Portland, opened this spring with nine beds and a live-in house manager. The county will pay two nonprofits a total of $224,429 a year to provide treatment services and operate the house. That includes the rent for a long-term lease.
Inside, the atmosphere is hardly clinical. There's a chore chart, a backyard garden where tomatillo and eggplants grow, and a set of Cards Against Humanity for after-dinner entertainment.
"We spend the most time in the kitchen around the table," said Mark Rohner, the live-in recovery manager. "If you're homeless on the streets, your chance of getting sober is almost zero."
Residents are expected to stay at the house for six to nine months, and have an employee to help them find permanent housing afterward. The rooms, some with two beds, are pre-furnished — but personal touches aren't hidden. One man has a Mickey Mouse pillow, another props his skateboard against a dresser.
They spend much of the day at the nearby campus of Quest Center for Integrative Health, 2901 E. Burnside St., which provides treatment for substance abuse, mental health issues, wellness care, naturopathic care, mentorship, acupuncture, exercise and case management.
The Quest Center opened about 30 years ago as a behavioral health program for people with HIV. It now operates four locations with 70 employees, a $4 million annual budget and 2,500 patients served a year, according to its executive director, Dr. David Eisen.
"We don't take a waiting list, because people on waiting lists famously don't wait," Eisen said of the new home. "With addiction, you've got to get them now."
Quest will receive the majority of the funding, reported at $174,142 this year, for providing treatment services. Bridges to Change, the nonprofit that manages the house, is being paid $50,287. Most of the money came to the county from state grants and the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.
Roomies for recovery
Trent Halverson is walking the long road to recovery — after "30 years of drinking and drugging."
But the 48-year-old knows the exact day he got clean: April 29.
Born in Utah, Halverson is learning how to live life without meth and receiving care for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV, the precursor of AIDS, was once considered a death sentence, but it is now a chronic illness that can be managed, if not cured.
"The idea of using was more important than my health," Halverson said. "I hurt my family, I hurt friends."
Before this, he was living in the 90-bed Clark Center in Southeast Portland — too big to be comfortable. Halverson's goals are to stay sober, see his son again and find work helping others get clean.
Another resident, Rich Cowden, is celebrating two months in the house. His last living space was at the Yards at Union Station, a mix of public and private housing. There were bad influences in the area who would trade drugs to find shelter inside the building, the 43-year-old recalls.
He grew up in Eagle Point, and fell into drugs because, as an introvert, "using drugs made me feel acceptable."
No more. Both he and Halverson agree that the new sober house is a safe house.
Said Cowden: "Everyone here is very serious about their recovery."
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