The two-story tudor has a sunny yellow kitchen and a manicured lawn. Sprouts of broccoli, radish and Walla Walla onions peek out of pots along the steps. The backyard is tidy, with a circle of chairs and an ashtray, and raised beds where collards, chard and lacinato kale elbow for space.
Neighbors brought a pie when the new tenants moved in. They ran over to help when a water pipe broke. And they share their gardening tools.
It doesn’t matter that the tenants in this Laurelhurst home moved in to get clean and sober. It doesn’t matter that they are gay, transgender or nonbinary, or that they may have HIV.
The house, with nine beds and a live-in recovery mentor, opened this spring as Oregon’s first sober housing focused on the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, prioritizing transgender and non-binary individuals.
It is a joint project of Quest Center for Integrative Health and Bridges to Change, with funding by Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“At a time when so many people in our society are being told they don't matter, they don't fit, they're not enough, Quest’s Recovery Home is a place to come home,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “It’s a place to recover. A place to remember that each of us is good just as we are and each of us deserves to feel we belong."
Agency staff and clients will gather with County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Sharon Meieran at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 11, for a dedication ceremony at Quest’s campus, 2901 E Burnside St.
The house is managed by Bridges to Change while residents attend Quest Center’s substance use disorder treatment program and access to other health services including acupuncture, exercise, nutrition and case management.
But perhaps the most important piece of the recovery model is the community it creates.
“Healthcare is so much more than taking a pill. It’s being part of a community,” said Quest Center cofounder Lusijah Marx, Ph.D. “I see these little miracles of people reaching out, stepping forward, showing up.”
Quest Center began as a behavioral health program for people with HIV at a time when families pushed them away and doctors gave up on them.
“I saw doctors telling their patients who were wasting to eat whatever they wanted, smoke, do anything you want. The inference was that, ‘you’re going to die anyway,’” she said.
Marx quickly began organizing a community meal, open to clients, volunteers and the public, every Thursday night at Quest Center. Thirty years later, the tradition continues with neighboring grocery stores donating food and guest speakers giving talks on health subjects. But mostly it was, and remains, a chance to meet people and build relationships. That’s especially important for people who have been mistreated by society.
“Starting with HIV was such an important thing in the 80s, with people were being marginalized more and more. I saw the limitations of the medical model, the one-size-fits-all model,” said Marx. “And as we have worked with a broader community, trans folks are among the most marginalized.”
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 can be a challenge for anyone struggling with homelessness and poverty. Add to that the housing discrimination often experienced by people who don’t conform to gender norms. Historically, trans and nonbinary clients have reported being asked inappropriate questions during intake processes, harassment from other clients, staff who lack training on how to provide culturally responsive services, issues around housing assignment in gendered facilities, and in gendered bathrooms.
But the residents of the new Quest-Bridges house get stability, sobriety and that key component: community. The living room is a tidy tan with matching sofas and overstuffed chairs — enough space for everyone to crowd around the flat screen TV. The formal dining room — its vases and china cabinet and artwork on the walls — is a popular place for meetings and meals. The back yard is populated largely by chairs arranged in a circle for social cigarette smoking.
“It was what the county needed,” said Mark, the house manager and recovery mentor. “It’s well-used and well-loved.”