Blackburn Building officially named, breaks ground
More affordable housing is coming online in Portland, with special backing from six health organizations that agree with the Health is Housing initiative.
As the homeless population on the West Coast grows, innovative organizations are taking the initiative to problem-solve: the costs that homelessness adds up for the community, such as repetitive expensive emergency room trips, could be put to better use in preventative measures that support a safe and healthy lifestyle for those trying to get back on their feet.
More than 200 attendees showed up at the Eastside Health Center, now officially named the Blackburn Building, to break ground on the project.
The development is part of Central City Concern's (CCC), the developer of the project, response to the community's housing and homelessness crisis, in the Housing is Health campaign.
Rachel Solotaroff, the new president and CEO of the CCC, said she used to work in addiction recovery for several years and was struck by the resilience of the people who work at the CCC.
"I've also been struck by the lack of targeted housing and healthcare that would support these folks in full recovery in meeting their full potential," Solotaroff said. "To that end, this project will create on the ground we stand a two-story healthcare facility that will serve 3,000 people each year with recovery and health services, as well as targeted primary care."
The Housing and Health campaign is building 379 new homes designed specifically for individuals and families who are or are at risk of homelessness, spread across three locations — the largest of which is the Blackburn Building.
The other two are the Stark Street Apartments, 333 S.E. 127th Ave. and 12621 S.E. Stark St., and Charlotte B. Rutherford Place, 6905 N. Interstate — which is already under construction.
Stark Street's two locations include a four-story building with 115 units of affordable housing, and a four-story building with 38 units of affordable housing. The Ankrom Moisan Architects design is supported by home funds from the Portland Housing Bureau, and includes on-site parking for residents.
Charlotte Rutherford Place will include 51 units of affordable housing, and is being developed in partnership between Home First Development and the CCC.
All three of the campaign's locations offer residents a variety of support services such as substance use disorder recovery support, mentoring, life skills training and help re-entering the workforce.
Six local hospitals and health organizations invested in the Housing is Health program and Blackburn development to the tune of $21.5 million: Adventist Health Portland, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, OHSU and Providence Health & Services.
"This is an unprecedented investment in healthcare and housing," Solotaroff said. "Hospitals and health organizations aren't generally in the business of housing, but as the name of this campaign and this project make clear, housing is health."
Ed Blackburn, the building's namesake, is the former president and CEO of the CCC, and predecessor and mentor of Solataroff.
"The tenacity and persistence with which he approached commitments to funding housing was Ed Blackburn at his finest," Solotaroff said. "Today we are officially announcing that this development will be known as the Blackburn Building."
95 people will find transitional housing here, and 34 will call it a permanent home.
"Now my name's on this building, I'll be doing weekly inspections making sure the outcomes are good, and they'll say maybe we should rename this building," Ed Blackburn, the building's namesake, joked. "What an honor, there are no words to explain it. It's surreal to have a building named after you."
He's been working on the topic for 25 years at the CCC, and since 2008 as the CCC's former president and CEO who stepped down this autumn.
"When I look out and see all the folks here, and know so many of you, I see a community of saints," Blackburn said.
Blackburn was in D.C. last week to receive national recognition for the CCC's efforts to end homelessness in Portland at the annual National Alliance to End Homelessness Honors Pioneers in
Innovation and Excellence.
"The last thing I want to say is how thrilled I am with Rachel taking over in this transition," Blackburn said. "She really revolutionized when she came healthcare to make it one of the finest healthcare for homeless clinics in the country."
The six-story structure's plans include a health care facility, pharmacy, retail space on the ground floor and 51 units of respite care transitional housing, including 10 units of palliative care housing — making it one of the few resources in America to help homeless individuals at the end of their lives.
Multnomah County District 3 Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson spoke at the groundbreaking.
"This area is right in my district, it's the area where I live, I'm so proud to see the investment the CCC along with so many other partners are making in acknowledging the need with exactly these kinds of services," Vega Pederson said. "Investment in the Housing is Healing initiative is amazing, I think it's a wonderful start. I'd like to see a lot more of this and I appreciate all efforts all groups have done to create what we have here today: it's no secret our region is facing a homelessness crisis."
The CCC will provide comprehensive case management and clinical services to support stabilization and rebuilding lives. Integrated housing and clinical services is meant to focus on recovery and mental health, with some targeted primary care services.
"We know the critical shortage of housing is a major factor on the numbers we see of those who live outside, as well as related burdens on public healthcare systems," Vega Pederson said. "Rents skyrocketed, uprooting low-income families, pushing the most vulnerable neighborhoods into homelessness. I see those stories played out so often in District 3."
The clinic is estimated to serve about 3,000 patients annually.
Details include high-quality low-flow water conservation fixtures, walkable access to community resources and transit, Energy Start appliances and high-efficient LED lighting, natural ventilation with operable windows and ceiling fans and solar energy panels.
"We need all sorts of solutions on the table. We especially know we need this investment in healthcare and supportive housing," Vega Pederson said. "The Blackburn Building and Stark Street are much-needed solutions for our communities. These projects won't end homelessness at large, but will end homelessness for each and every homeless family that received keys to their new homes."
Last month, the City and Multnomah County committed to bringing 2,000 new units of supportive housing online in the next 10 years.
"CCC work has shown us for years that this model works, especially helping those folks who have the hardest time getting off the streets," Vega Pederson said. "Ending homelessness takes all of us working together."
Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick spoke at the groundbreaking.
"This is exactly the kind of project we have in mind of how you use these transit-oriented funds (Metro contributes) ... located on a busy corridor, 122nd and Burnside," Craddick said. "These are funds Metro received from the Federal government to build housing along these major transit corridors: the one right here, the Blue Line comes and goes, and about one-third of traffic on I-84 is carried on that train every day."
Metro especially values the 33,000 square feet of medical space, primary care clinic and addiction recovery clinic space, along with the 13,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
"It follows a nationally recognized model for serving the homeless population by providing comprehensive services for transitional housing and health in a single location — it's really something to be proud of," Craddick said.
The construction crew's groundbreaking with real equipment is expected to begin by the end of the week, and the Blackburn Building is slated to open early summer 2019.
By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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Blackburn Building (Eastside Health Center)
Where: 25 N.E. 122nd Ave.
Total cost: $52 million
Developer: Central City Concern
Architect: Ankrom Moisan Architects
General Contractor: Walsh Construction
Construction manager: GLI Advisors
Funders: Oregon Housing and Community Services ($8 million in low income tax credits, plus $150,000 weatherization grants), U.S. Bank ($8 million in low income housing credits and $250,000 solar tax credits), CSH source for housing solutions ($7.8 million in new market lease credits), Low Income Investment Fund ($6.3 million), Multnomah County ($1.7 million), Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Health Authority ($2.5 million), Metro ($500,000 in grants), Energy Trust of Oregon ($100,000 in incentives)
A corner for transformation
Mike Holevas is a former client of the CCC.
"I am a recovering drug addict and I've been here before to this intersection probably between 50-100 times purchasing drugs within 100 feet of where we are," Holevas said. "I brought illegal activities and desperation here. I didn't care about the property owner, the neighborhood, the community, the law, or you. I didn't care about me."
But it wasn't always that way for Holevas, who grew up in Gresham. His mother was a first-grade teacher and his dad a vice principal. Holevas himself earned a master's degree and became a biology teacher for 15 years. He had a wife and three kids, who grew up to be a nursing student, an engineer and a veterinarian.
That all went downhill in the 1990s when Holevas was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
"I was prescribed opioids: hydrocodone, oxycodone, OxyContin," Holevas said. "It was not the doctor's fault. I'm not a victim. They were trying to help in every single interaction, but within a few years I was an addict."
Over the next 10 years, he suffered all the symptoms of addition.
"I was in and out of homelessness, in and out of jail, lost my career, my teacher's license, I earned it back, I lost it again, I broke the law, my kids wouldn't speak to me, they knew I was dying," Holevas said. "The Lupus was a misdiagnosis, but I had a bigger problem on my hands."
He tried to get treatment by taking himself to the methadone clinics.
"I learned from the fellowship there that there's a cheaper way to get high than pills," Holevas said. "That's when I started coming to this intersection and others like it."
One day, when he was utterly hopeless, he called Eastside Concern.
"I really didn't think there was any way I was going to be helped, I was suicidal, I was a frequent flyer in emergency rooms," Holevas said. "I ended up in front of Rachel Solotaroff...I felt like the scene in the Lord of the rings when Frodo is in the cave fighting the giant spider and ... Galadriel gives him the light to find his way out of the darkness."
He went through the treatment at Eastside Concern. He moved downtown to supported housing, out of the environment that wasn't conducive to his recovery.
"I'm now working as a part-time janitor with the CCC, and my children are probably waiting for me to call and tell them how this event went today," Holevas said. "This corner now can be the site where thousands more suffering people can come for transformation."