Responding to the crisis has been a challenge for organizations across the county. However, Clark County Public Health, Columbia River Mental Health Services, Recovery Café Clark County, SWACH, local churches and others have banded together to respond to the crisis collaboratively. So far, the approach has shown positive results, with more and more people seeking and getting treatment every month, according to Fischer.
“As somebody that is new to Clark County Public Health, seeing the level of collaboration and action on this issue has just been phenomenal,” said Rachel Vinson, the new program manager at Clark County Public Health’s Harm Reduction Syringe Services Program.
One person connecting organizations in Southwest Washington that respond to the opioid crisis is David Hudson with Clark County Public Health. Hudson manages Public Health’s Healthy Communities team, which compiles data around overdoses and other topics related to public health.
Hudson has worked to build connections because more collaboration between organizations means people struggling with addiction will encounter fewer barriers to accessing recovery services, which will promote trust in the system, Hudson said.
“People struggling with addiction have to feel like they can trust the people that are trying to help them,” Hudson said. “When we build trust, people are more likely to come back, and that’s what we want.”
Constant communication between organizations and agencies is a big part of Clark County’s collaborative response.
Hudson’s team has a weekly meeting with the NorthStar Clinic team at Columbia River Mental Health Services. There’s the Clark County Opioid Task Force, which meets regularly. PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center facilitates an Opioid Treatment Network, and Hudson’s team and members of NorthStar Clinic participate in that, as well.
That level of communication leads to a more streamlined response, Hudson said.
Now, when someone struggling with addiction joins one organization, such as Recovery Café Clark County, they simultaneously enter a network of recovery, housing and employment services.
Few barriers to entry
Recovery Café Clark County specializes in helping people with recovery. The café has few barriers for entry, and only three requirements for membership: they must be sober for 24 hours; they must attend one recovery circle (a small support group) each week and they must give back to the café community in some way, such as helping with chores.
While the café connects members with other resources in Clark County, it also serves as a gathering place to build community.
“Our main thing is connection,” said Recovery Café Operations Manager Becky Gonzales. “We want our members to feel like they are connected with the recovery community, but also people that are outside of the community, because sometimes when you’re new in recovery, you feel like you’re on an island all by yourself. We want to make sure that they’re not on an island by themselves.”
Recovery Café invites other groups to use its space at 3312 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., including Dual Recovery Anonymous and Criminals Anonymous. It connects members with a variety of services depending on their needs, including housing, employment and more.
Columbia River Mental Health Services also uses the Recovery Café space for its mobile crisis team to conduct assessments with clients rather than outside. Addiction specialists at Recovery Café regularly interface with addiction specialists at Columbia River Mental Health Services.
Now, the organization is collaborating with other organizations to bring a naloxone vending machine to the Recovery Café to make the life-saving medication more accessible.
Providing comprehensive support is what the Recovery Café is all about, Gonzales said.
“We encourage every single member here to find multiple support systems,” Gonzales said. “And if you need help finding that, we’ll help you find it, because we’re resource brokers. We’ll help you all the way to the next door that you got to go to, so you won’t be by yourself.”
That support network is unique to Clark County, according to Gonzales. It’s something that other organizations in Washington, including other Recovery Cafés, have taken note of, she said. Some have even reached out to Gonzales. She remembers one addiction counselor from Everett who called and said, “I don’t know what Clark County does, but the collaboration down there is like no other.”
“We’ve really created this beautiful network with our community,” said Recovery Café Operations Director Tracey Jennings.
As Hudson continues to connect organizations to help Southwest Washington meet the crisis head-on, his team is compiling comprehensive data to help those organizations identify trends in drug use, hospitalizations and overdose deaths.
The team is currently developing an online overdose dashboard that will be available for all.
“That data will be really helpful for all of us to plan ahead as we see these trends and determine how to address the issue,” he said.
Additionally, the team is working to establish an official Response Network, a collaborative of providers that will be notified any time there is a spike in overdoses.
“All these partners will be ready to respond,” Hudson said. “And then we’ll all be working and communicating together on a regular basis when we see these spikes in overdoses, and we’ll be able to respond effectively.”
One of the biggest challenges moving forward is garnering support from the public and decision-makers, Hudson said.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about who’s impacted by this, why they’re in this situation and how they need to be helped,” he said. “Part of our role is to grow support around this work. It’s so important not just to the individuals that are using drugs, but it’s an issue that affects the greater community, because we know that when individuals like this are in more stable situations, it creates more stability in the community overall.”
‘Support is huge’
For some 20 years, Charles Stuart struggled with addiction and homelessness.
“I quit several times for a couple of years at a time, but I never stopped,” he said. “I just thought to myself that that would never happen. I had no support.”
But that changed about two years ago when Stuart got connected with Recovery Café Clark County.
The café provided structure and community for Stuart, and it helped him access other resources in Clark County. Ultimately, it gave him access to Southwest Washington’s collaborative recovery community.
“When I first got here, it was like anything else, I was very reserved,” Stuart said one afternoon after enjoying a meal at the café. “But I just kept coming back for my recovery circle once a week, and then I started stopping in more than that. I started getting to know people and started falling in love with the people here. It’s very family-like.”
Now, Stuart is clean and sober. He’s still a regular at the café, as well as with local churches that support recovery in Clark County. He lives at the Safe Stay Community at Living Hope Church, where he is also an on-site manager. He uses his lived experience to help others with their own recovery.
“Support is huge when it comes to recovery,” he said. “If you’re in recovery, you’ve got to find something like the Recovery Café.”