Board hears stories of stability, recovery, strength at final budget hearing

June 15, 2015

Judge Michael Greenlick and Presiding Judge Nan Waller (right) at the June 10 public budget hearing

It was standing-room only last week for the third and final Multnomah County public hearing on the 2016 budget. More than 60 people testified for programs that serve residents struggling to recover from addiction and recover from mental illness.

The Board of County Commissioners will adopt the 2016 budget on Thursday, June 18. In her first budget as chair, Deborah Kafoury proposed $28 million to replace the century-old downtown courthouse.

Multnomah County judges came out to the June 10 evening meeting to testify in support of Kafoury’s budget.  Judge Michael Greenlick said that when he was weighing whether to take his appointment to the bench in 2013, he calculated his risk of being crushed by the seismically unsafe structure in the event of an earthquake.

“I calculated that I had a 20 percent chance of being in the building at the time,” he said. As a new judge with lower seniority, he and his juries often cram into rooms too small for comfort. “Jurors regularly complain of discomfort,’’ he said. “In some juror rooms there’s not even space for an easel.”

Presiding Judge Nan Waller said including the courthouse in the budget shows the Legislature the County’s commitment to matching funds.

“Setting aside $28 million is a demonstrative showing of commitment,” she said.

Raihana Ansary, a lobbyist with the Portland Business Alliance also expressed support, applauding efforts that would require the county to finance less of the project.

Recovering together

Gary Cobb of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program addresses the board at Wednesday's budget hearing.

Gary Cobb has been clean and sober 13 years. Today he owns his own home, and he credits his life to the recovery program of Central City Concern, where he once received services and now supports others through the Recovery Mentor Program.

Dozens of program graduates came out in support of the program and thanks the board for its continued support.

“I needed a program to teach me to fend for myself, to take responsibility, to make decisions. Basically the mentor program saved my life,” said program participant Gary Hughes. “Today I have self-respect and self-confidence. I’m a man my mother would be proud of.”

“For the first time in my life I found a place I was safe. Where I could work on issues that kept me in my addiction,”  said Erica Potter, who recently celebrated nine months of sobriety. “I have contact with my daughter again after 3 years. I’m able to see a future for the first time.”

Carl Thompson “was invited to the party when I was 10 and stayed for 40 years,” he said. He calculated that’s about 15,000 days of drinking.

“I have been to programs, and I have been in gated communities my whole life,” he said to an audience that laughed at his self-deprecation. “I am member of first graduating class of the Recovery Mentor Program. I’m so thankful to be here and alive. I certainly thank the recovery mentor program for not kicking me out and working with me.”

Other addiction recovery providers also came out this week to champion their services.

Martin Estrada, a drug and alcohol counselor with the Native American Youth and Family Center, said he simply came with gratitude.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us tools to work with. I work with a lot of kids who show immense courage. Sometimes they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Sometimes they don’t have adequate clothing. And they still show up,” he said. The county funding makes his support possible. 

“It allows us to match that courage,” he said. “We really thank you for the bottom of our hearts.”

Supporting mental wellness

During Wednesday's public budget hearing community member Doug Carson shares his experience overcoming depression with the help from the organization NorthStar Clubhouse.

Staff and members came out from the NorthStar Clubhouse, which offers residents struggling with mental illness a place to come together, gain confidence and learn vocational skills.

Cherrann Verduin said when she first came to NorthStar she had nearly given up. “I was hopeless, depressed and in a financial condition I wanted to get out of but had no way to get out.”

Getting a job seemed like a fantasy, because of mental illness and blindness. But today she’s employed and she says, “Hey, life’s not so bad.”

Debilitating depression made it impossible for Doug Carson to hold down a job, and without an income he stayed too long in an abusive relationship. That was before he found NorthStar.

“I always felt weak and valueless,” he said. But staff helped him secure a job at Walgreens, where he works 32 hours a week. He also volunteers at the clubhouse. 

“Now I have self confidence I never had before,” he said. “I can help others feel valuable. I can help others feel safe.”