Trent Halverson dusted the furniture while Rich Cowden finished mowing the lawn. They brewed a pot of coffee and laid out teas. Then Trent put on a fashionable leather vest, and Rich pulled on a V-neck cashmere sweater from Banana Republic.
Both men have experienced homelessness and methamphetamine addiction. But now, they are in early recovery and active in the HIV and LGBT communities. And on Sept. 11, they prepared to host dozens of elected officials, health, community and nonprofit leaders to the recently opened recovery housing program that has helped them gain that stability .
Halverson and Cowden welcomed Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal and Lori Stegmann, along with State Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, and city officials, to Oregon’s first sober housing program focused on the LGBTQ+ community.
The house, with nine beds and a live-in recovery mentor, prioritizes transgender and nonbinary individuals. It opened this spring as a joint project of Quest Center for Integrative Health and Bridges to Change, with funding from Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division.
“It is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to this dedication for the first LGBT drug- and alcohol-free housing in the state of Oregon,” Quest Executive Director David Eisen said to a crowded room. “We have been working on this project for almost two years. And it could not have been done without Multnomah County and Bridges to Change. Need for this house is astronomical.”
Bridges to Change manages the house while Quest provides substance abuse treatment and other health services, including case management, acupuncture, exercise and nutrition. Both agencies have worked to create programs welcoming to LGBT clients.
“At Bridges, when we think about how we’re impacting marginalized communities, we think not through a lens of equality, where everyone gets a pair of shoes,” said executive director Monta Knudson, “but through a lens of equity, where everyone gets a pair of shoes — and the shoes fit. And the shoes match who they are as human beings. That’s what this program really underscores.”
In a state that ranks among the highest for alcohol and drug dependency, while simultaneously ranking last in access to mental health and addiction treatment, research suggests LGBT people — and most prominently transgender people — experience higher rates of substance use disorder, depression and other mental health conditions directly tied to stigma, discrimination and family rejection.
Finding supportive sober housing is challenging for anyone struggling with homelessness and poverty. But for people who don’t conform to gender norms, housing discrimination and other barriers compound that struggle.
Through its work with Bridges and Quest over the past two years, Mental Health and Addiction Services Division identified some of those gender-specific barriers. Transgender and nonbinary clients report being asked inappropriate questions during intake processes. They suffer harassment from other clients. They must work with staff who lack training on how to provide culturally responsive services. And they face issues around housing assignments and access to bathrooms in gendered facilities.
And so last year the division staff proposed funding the LGBT home.
“If it wasn’t for Chair Kafoury, Sharon Meieran and my division director, none of this would be possible,” said Anthony Jordan, the County’s Addiction Services manager. “Every day they push us to find culturally specific services, to go out into the community and locate gaps in services. To make sure every member in the community is being served.”
Jordan vowed his team would continue its work with community partners to identify and grow services to meet those needs.
Chair Kafoury applauded the effort.
“Treatment is far more effective when people feel safe, when they can let their guard down and be honest,” she said. “And that’s exactly what Quest’s new Recovery House will offer: a supportive environment where the needs of people are protected, prioritized and met.”
The residents of the new Quest-Bridges house find not just stability, and sobriety, but also another key component: community.
The two-story Tudor has a sunny yellow kitchen and a well-stocked pantry. The tan living room is offers matching sofas and overstuffed chairs — enough space for everyone to crowd around the flat screen TV or play a board game. The formal dining room — with vases and a china cabinet, and artwork on the walls — is a popular place for meetings.
On Wednesday, Halverson led tours through the home while Cowden, his roommate, stuck to the yard — a labor of love, he said.
Cowden keeps the lawn bright green and neatly mowed. He weeds the garden beds and keeps the invasive bamboo at bay.
In the back yard, he shows off his raised beds, full of mints, greens and squash. He paused between conversations to reflect on what he learns by living in shared space with other sober people.
“Part of life is learning how to live with other people. How to work with other people, to live around other people,” he said. “Not everyone here is alike, but we do have one thing in common: recovery. And we’re not the normal traditional straight people. So we all feel safe here.”
Safety. That key component of recovery.
“You don’t have to worry about who you are here, or that you’ll be judged,” he said. “It feels like home. I haven’t had that feeling for a long time.”