PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Central City Concern has been the forefront of dealing with Portland’s homeless issues since it was founded in 1979.

The agency does everything from housing, health care and addiction recovery to helping people find jobs, mostly in Portland’s Old Town.

The organization’s work is more important than ever as the city struggles to get a handle on a homeless problem that many Portlanders say is out of control.

Recently, CCC opened the 100-unit Starlight affordable housing project in Old Town — totaling $33 million.

“It includes a significant number of units that are dedicated for our BIPOC community and we’re working with the Native American Rehabilitation Association, our own culturally specific programs…in order to set aside some rooms for those folks,” said Juliana Lukasik, Senior Director of Communications for Central City Concern.

“There’s a huge deficit in a number of affordable housing units we have in our city so, this increase is much-needed,” Lukasik said.

She added “every housing unit we add is going to make a dent. Think about the one person who gets that unit, who gets to come out of the cold and gets to a safe place where they can receive services, that makes a huge dent. So, is it going to be something that ends homelessness by adding 100 units? Not today, not tomorrow, but every single unit that we add to our portfolio makes a difference.”

CCC also recognizes “‘housing first doesn’t mean housing only,'” according to Lukasik who says “we need a continuum of solutions including shelters, including different kinds of housing, affordable housing and workforce housing.”

Taking steps to build shelters, Portland City Council recently approved a $27 million measure to implement part of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s homeless plan.

CCC, which works with the mayor’s office, county and regional leaders to other community safety-net providers, however, was not consulted in the creation of Wheeler’s homeless shelter plan, according to Lukasik.

“We, unfortunately, were not consulted by the mayor, Commissioner Ryan as they led up to and revealed their plan,” Lukasik said. “We think we should be consulted, we are experts in the community about these solutions but we also know that there are a lot of factors going on and we’re not always going to be the first people everybody calls. We want to be at the table, we want to be included, but this is a really complex issue. The need to act quickly is pressure that everybody’s feeling’ the City, the county the Joint Office etcetera.”

According to Lukasik, CCC is particularly “excited” about the affordable housing proponents of Wheeler’s plan. However, the organization has lingering questions about the mayor’s other proposals.

“A recent report published by OHSU’s and PSU’s Joint School of Public Health revealed that Oregon is short 35,000 behavioral health workers. It is the single most important issue that’s facing CCC and many of the other safety-net providers in our community. And that’s something the mayor should really be paying attention to because the plan really calls for having support services on-site at the camps and we know that behavioral health workers are in high demand, there’s a shortage…We’re going to need a state and federal strategy to work on that,” Lukasik explained.

Additionally, Lukasik said CCC has concerns about those who use drugs and if they can receive services in Wheeler’s proposed camps.

“We’re also concerned about how we’re going to manage the different and increased use of different kinds of opioids, especially P2P and fentanyl,” Lukasik said. “Are folks that are using those drugs going to be allowed into the camps and if not where are they going to go?”

“It is time for us to all focus on the future, reset in January – sooner if possible—and start working together to solve these issues because it’s going to take all of us working together to make a dent in this problem,” Lukasik said. “People can recover from being homeless. They can recover from being in recovery services and addiction. I get to see stories every single day of people who have recovered [from] some of the worst challenges that you can imagine that they’re facing…we can solve homelessness and people can recover.”