Tag Archives: Stacy Brownhill

Dead, in the red: Services report a rising number of people who can’t afford to bury their dead

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

A name in this story has been changed to protect the subject’s identity.

Grief was the first emotion to seize Sarah Jones after her sister died from advanced cancer earlier this year.

Financial worry was the second.

From her trailer in rural Oregon where she lived with her brother-in-law, Jones called 211info with a nightmarish concern. The funeral home holding her sister’s body had just told Jones she had twenty-four hours to come up with the $500 necessary for cremation. Otherwise, the funeral home said, they would put her sister’s body in cold storage and, eventually, a numbered pauper’s grave—a typical, legal process for indigent dead. Continue reading

Setting new sights on the city: Steve Novick returns to the campaign trail

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

Steve Novick, the currenlty uncontested candidate for Randy Leonard’s spot on Portland City Council, has plenty of novel ideas for a City Council facing more change than it’s seen in decades. With Mayor Sam Adams and Leonard leaving, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz facing a tough contest, as many as three of the five Council seats could change next year.

New Jersey-born and Oregon-raised, Novick graduated from University of Oregon at 18 and Harvard Law School at age 21 before launching prolific careers as an environmental lawyer, nonprofit director and community advocate. In 1998, Novick was chief of staff for the Oregon Senate Democrats, and has since eyed positions at city, county, state and federal levels, most notably running a close race for the Senate in 2008. The “fighter with the hard left hook,” a pun addressing his left hand hook prosthesis, currently works for the Oregon Health Authority.

Novick received the endorsement of Gov. John Kitzhaber last week, and has raised more than $100,000 in the mere 52 days since his campaign announcement (in contrast, state Rep. Mary Nolan, Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s opponent, has reported less than half of that amount). Street Roots grabbed coffee and kebabs with Novick this week, and picked his brain on everything from his ideas for health care and public safety to his distaste for gentrification.

Stacy Brownhill: The Portland Housing Bureau Director, Margaret Van Vliet, is moving to lead the state housing agency. In her interview with Street Roots, she talked about the need for housing to be “front and center,” so that when we’re talking about jobs or health or community issues, we’re talking about housing problems that underlie those other things. What are your ideas for creating affordable housing in Portland?

Steve Novick: Creating affordable housing is hard. Rent control and inclusionary zoning are ways to create affordable housing but are against state law, as I understand it. We have the low-income housing tax credit program, which ensures some affordable housing.

Urban renewal is a problematic tool for affordable housing because only 15 percent of the city can be an urban renewal district at any given time, and the districts tend to last awhile. So most people will never live in an urban renewal district.

One question the council has to consider going forward is: Have we done urban renewal in a way that’s made previously affordable housing unaffordable through gentrification? We have to be really careful that we’re not just creating more neighborhoods for rich white people to live in.

I was not aware until recently that we spend $106 million per year of property taxes on urban renewal — that’s like 24 cents of every tax dollar.

To some extent, the city of Portland over the past 20 years has been blinded by cuteness. We keep thinking if we build more cute neighborhoods then that’s an economic development strategy. But we’ve got cute neighborhoods coming out of our ears and we’re still lagging behind comparable cities, like Seattle and Denver, in terms of income and jobs. So I would be very hesitant about where we put more urban renewal money.

Also, offering better jobs is a way of making housing more affordable. If we had a stronger economy, more people would be able to afford housing because they would be making more money. Continue reading

Building the future of equality with Basic Rights Oregon

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

The ground on same-sex marriage is shifting.

Last month, New York legalized gay marriage, despite a Republican-controlled Senate, making it the largest state where gay and lesbian couples can wed. For the first time, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to Gallup and several other recent national polls. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, D.C. and several Native American tribes also allow same-sex marriage. What about Oregon?

Oregon voters banned same-sex marriage six years ago by approving Measure 36, which defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Then in 2007, the Legislature enacted domestic partnership rights, which gave gay couples the right to buy joint health insurance and visit a partner in the hospital, but left them without many federal rights.

Now, a plurality of Oregonians support same-sex marriage, according to a Public Policy Polling announced last month. The poll found that 43% of voters favor gay marriage, 33% favor civil unions and 22% oppose all recognition.

In the wake of major victories for what many say is the “civic-rights battle of our time,” Street Roots talked with the executive director of the largest nonprofit gay rights organization in Oregon about the potential for same-sex marriage in Oregon, its victory in New York, and the collaborations and small victories that keep her going.

Stacy Brownhill: First of all, congratulations on same-sex marriage’s victory in New York, and the new Gallup poll that indicates that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Those must have been huge victories for Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).

Jeana Frazzini: Both the victory in New York and the Gallup poll have demonstrated huge support for freedom to marry. The Gallup poll is actually the third national poll in the last two years showing support for marriage equality. So that’s really exciting and shows there’s momentum around this issue.

New York is unique because it’s the first state where a Republican-majority legislative body has approved a marriage equality bill. Other legislatures have successfully passed similar bills, but the fact that one of New York’s houses was controlled by Republicans and still the bill passed, is exciting.

The breakdown on party lines is starting to fall apart. The more LGBT families who share their stories, the more this becomes an issue of humanity, not politics. Continue reading

Vial of Life: Helping save lives at the Downtown Chapel

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

How much good can a small red pouch, zip tie and sheet of paper do for someone living on the streets? Turns out, a lot.

Downtown Chapel is pioneering an innovative, potentially life-saving program for medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness called the Vial of Life program. It’s actually an adaptation of a nationally established program used by people who have homes, applied now to those who do not.

Homeless participants can fill out a one-page sheet listing medical illnesses, prescriptions, emergency contacts, allergies and blood type, stuff it into a red plastic pouch no bigger than an index card, and attach it to their backpack. The “vial” provides an easily identifiable, relatively reliable record to emergency personnel, and Downtown Chapel keeps a copy in case the original is lost.

Since June, around 40 homeless individuals have participated in the Vial of Life program at Downtown Chapel, meeting one-on-one for a few minutes with volunteer nursing students from University of Portland who help them fill out medical information and even call pharmacies if there are questions about prescriptions.

Reviews by participants have been “over the moon,” says Andrew Noethe, pastoral associate at Downtown Chapel who is overseeing the implementation of the Vial of Life program in collaboration with parish nurse Sharon Christenson. Participant Michelle says she recommends it to other friends on the street who have seizures or diabetes and thinks there should be “a lot more awareness” about the Vial of Life program. Continue reading

Street Roots four-part series on brain injuries and homelessness

You might say Nick Patton was born to fish.

Literally born on a boat, Nick spent his earliest years living in orphanages along the Alaskan coastline.  He ran away at the age of eight and quickly learned how to take care of himself and to rely on others — traveling in groups around the Pacific Northwest, picking apples and doing day labor.

It all ended with the smack of a crow bar. Nick was 32 and alone on the night he was attacked, and there were no witnesses. With no memory of the assault, he has few clues to the story except for the scar on his forehead where the crowbar cracked his skull.

Nick woke up in an Anchorage hospital, but nothing was ever the same. His gregarious nature was now drowned out by voices and hallucinations, and reality was lost in the din.

Alcohol and drugs became his only way of coping. “If I stayed high I could deal with it.” For the first time in his life, Nick found himself unable to work and spent the next several years selling heroin, panhandling, and living on the streets.

For seven long years Nick was misdiagnosed with a severe mental illness.

Unfortunately, Nick’s story isn’t unique.

Street Roots has put together a four-piece series on Traumatic Brain Injury and homelessness.

In the first piece we introduced Nick’s story, and the subject of brain injury and homelessness.

In the second piece Street Roots takes an in-depth look at why diagnosing brain injury on the streets matters — including looks at what professionals in the medical field know, including the military and National Football League.

In the third piece Street Roots looks at how brain injury leads people to the streets, while looking at road maps for communities to understand, track and diagnose brain injuries.

The fourth piece we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of what exists and is being done for brain injuries concerning people experiencing homelessness and poverty — looking at simple systems that are in play and the barriers to sharing medical records and moving the issue forward.

Street Roots will be following up in the coming months with other personal stories concerning brain injuries and advocating for ways to improve the system. Stay tuned.

Part IV: The good, the bad and the ugly: tracking brain injuries, health care for the homeless

Street Roots is running an in-depth investigative series on Brain injuries and homelessness. ReadPart I: All in their heads, Part II: Why Diagnosing traumatic brain injuries on the streets matters,” and “Part III: Brain injuries push victims into homelessness

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff writer

Complaining about health care and health insurance is a national pastime in the US, but when you’re homeless and mobile, without insurance or a regular doctor, health care is truly an uphill battle. Tracking and sharing the health history of a homeless person across multiple systems is fundamental in providing better care, reducing costs, and creating a more efficient and successful system of safety nets. But it’s rare.

The good

Every night when the clock strikes 12 in San Francisco, records from over a dozen incompatible safety-net databases – including data from shelters, ambulances, mental health services, hospitals and sobering centers – are dumped into one central digital warehouse called the Coordinated Case Management System (CCMS). Once there, the data is collated and duplicates are deleted for an end result of around 270,000 individual profiles of vulnerable people, about 50,000 identified as being homeless, or formerly homeless.

The noble success of CCMS is that it provides a benefit to overburdened agencies without requiring them to change their systems or do any extra work. The next time a homeless person walks into any safety-net agency in San Francisco, a social worker or physician can simply click a link to CCMS and see a client’s complete health and social service history.

And it’s inexpensive. Three committed employees of the San Francisco Department of Public Health created CCMS, without extra funding, using the software Oracle.

Boston is another innovative hub for health care for the homeless systems. From 1993-1995, Boston merged records of 75 different clinics and soup kitchens into one database using Centricity software. “It has helped us begin to understand homeless people’s patterns of behaviors,” says O’Connell with Boston’s Health Care for the Homeless Program. “If I’m seeing someone at the Pine Street Inn shelter on a Friday night and they had been seen at a soup kitchen the day before, I see that on their record.”

The Homeless Youth Service Continuum in Portland is another example of shared systems, albeit a micro-approach that only targets homeless youth ages 13-21. Outside In, New Avenues for Youth and Janus Youth Programs double-enter records into a common database that is available to several youth homeless providers.

Double-entering gets challenging when organizations are interested in tracking different things, often motivated by grant reporting, or when agencies have different definitions of data points, says John Duke, health clinic director at Outside In.

MiVIA is an online health database launched in California in 2003 to provide electronic health records for migrant workers, whose transient lifestyle means discontinuity in health care. The mission of MiVIA revolves around saving time and money by avoiding duplicate tests. Web-based records like MiVIA have enormous potential among the homeless population.

The bad

“We’re trying to make sure all clinics are connected but it depends on which clinic you go to,” says Chase.

“Right now, (healthcare for the homeless) isn’t really tracked that easily,” says Duke, who must request records from other clinics once patients tell him they’ve been to those clinics.

Portland’s closest thing to a homeless tracking system is the Homeless National Information Systems (HMIS), a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsored program. HMIS is limited, however, because only data from HUD-funded agencies is collected. And clinical information is excluded.

“HMIS could potentially work like CCMS if it collected information from non-HUD safety-net agencies and included clinical records,” says Maria X. Martinez, who headed the creation of CCMS and works in the Director’s Office of the Department of Public Health in San Francisco.

And the ugly

“There are not always incentives to create a common database for homeless health care,” says Duke. “Hospitals are competitive.”

“Even though it is completely legal to share records through electronic databases, physicians from different hospitals get nervous about increased liability,” says Martinez, a former specialist in health information privacy laws. “Picking up the phone to discuss a case is one thing, but codifying information is unnerving for institutions.”

With the exception of substance abuse records, however, records from social workers, primary care physicians, psychiatrists, case managers and shelters are all fair game to share among providers of care, says Martinez.

Martinez will be the first to admit that even CCMS has major flaws. Despite being an enormous wealth of information about a homeless client, CCMS usually comes in second to an agency’s own database. Social workers might make time to look at both sets of records, but physicians who are pressed for time may not, says Martinez.

Then, there’s the question of what to do after data is shared. “So-what-now-what?” asks Martinez. “What’s the next step? We’ve seen that sharing information alone doesn’t change practice. (Sharing information) is a whole new way of delivering care because you don’t just have your toolkit; you have many agencies’ toolkits. So we’ve got to change our protocols and our whole way of thinking.”

Gay, grey and groundbreaking

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

For a while, Bruce Meisner and Bob Rupar were attending a funeral a week. The two energetic, grey-haired men in their 70s, partners of 40 years, recall the Reagan era as a dark time when male friends were quietly dying, childless and spouseless, from an epidemic no one acknowledged: AIDS.

Today, Meisner, Rupar and other gay seniors of their generation still live in the shadows. There are an estimated 10,000 gay seniors in Portland, and around 3 million nationwide, according to the most conservative estimates. Many are battling a double dose of vulnerability that wreaks havoc on their finances, health and emotions.

Portland’s own gay elder advocacy group, Gay & Grey PDX, is on the frontlines of fighting that vulnerability. Supported by the community nonprofit Friendly House in Northwest Portland, the team of about 20 advocates and allies organizes benefit events and conducts educational workshops in nursing homes to raise awareness about discrimination that many don’t even realize exists. Continue reading

Proud Ground helps deliver a dream of having a home

Casey and Angela Baker in their yard. Behind is their home, made affordable through Proud Ground's Land Trust program

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

When Sakorya Avery first heard of the nonprofit Proud Ground in 2005, then called Portland Community Land Trust, she hesitated. Twice she had already looked into buying a home, but the sky-high market resigned Avery to living in Section 8 Housing at $825 per month. She took the plunge, and six years later, the 35-year-old teaching assistant and mother of four owns her own 2,300 square foot home in Southeast Portland, pays $750 per month in mortgage payments, and sings the praises of Proud Ground and homeownership.

Proud Ground is one of 230 community land trusts (CLTs) nationwide — nonprofits born out of soaring home prices and shrinking urban space over the last thirty years, designed specifically to provide stable land and housing to those who would otherwise be denied. Simply put, Proud Ground acquires relatively modern, renovated homes and the land beneath them, and sells the homes heavily subsidized (about $60,000 to $100,000 under the market rate) to people hankering to own a home. Continue reading