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Deschutes County planning new health center


The Deschutes County Health Services Department is in the early stages of establishing a new Bend center for teens and young adults at risk for homelessness and incarceration.

Health Services Operations Manager Dave Inbody said Friday the county will create a space where young people can access mental and public health care and other services, all in one building.

The county will fund either the construction of the new center, or a remodel of one of the county’s current buildings.

Officials hope to put the center in downtown Bend, but so far there’s no timeline for the project, or estimate for how much it might cost.

The program is called Young Adults in Transition. Behind the scenes, it’s already been running for six months as a collaboration between the county, the Wellness and Education Board of Central Oregon and other community partners.

WEBCO received a roughly $400,000 grant to fund the program’s therapists, a skills-builder coach and a peer mentor.

“Our focus is on that population with more acute mental health conditions, but also those affected by homelessness and those affected by juvenile justice,” said WEBCO Program Director Damien Sands. “We’re talking about everything from suicidality to high levels of substance abuse. This is a very high-risk population.”

Therapists are already working with about 50 young adults throughout Central Oregon between the ages of 14 and 25.

The goal is to get more participation from youth by bringing the care to them.

“Park benches, walking down the road, picking them up from school — all the care is happening in that youth’s environment, and the youth becomes more trusting, more comfortable,” Sands said.

Deschutes County Behavioral Health Therapist Jenniffer Longo works with young adults in the new program. She said she sees about half of her patients off-site — either at coffee shops, homes or wherever else they might be.

“There’s some hesitation about coming into a clinic setting, and so it’s really about building that rapport and trust with them,” Longo said.

That’s something 19-year-old Bend resident Jessica Ludeman can relate to.

Although she works and nearly has her associate’s degree, she’s also a homeless college student.

“Everything from hotel-hopping and sleeping in my car and crashing on people’s couches,” Ludeman said. “I’ve pretty much been doing that for the past two years.”

It’s taken her time and courage to get help, but Ludeman just recently moved into the Cascade Youth and Family Center.

Now, thanks to the Young Adults in Transition Program, Ludeman can get counseling right at her new home. Next month, therapists will open an office right in the shelter.

“I didn’t ever even think I would be successful,” Ludeman said. “I thought I’d always be stuck in my car, or not even alive.”

Sands hopes that by eventually opening a new physical center downtown, health experts will be able to reach even more teens and young adults at risk.

“What we’re hoping to do is have is a drop-in space that’s very informal in nature — I think the best example would be almost a Starbucks feel to it,” Sands said. “Youth can come in, use that space as a utility, applying for jobs — there could be computers there.”

In addition to a safe place for young adults to hang out, Sands also hopes the space will help them learn more about other services, right on site.

“It’s not about, ‘What is your condition? What is your diagnosis?’ It’s more about how do you get this person to successfully re-engage in (his or her) community?” Sands said.

Health experts hope the new program will allow young people to feel more welcome and get the help that could change their life.

“When you’re reaching people where they’re at and are in the front lines with them being supportive, I think they feel that, and it’s real and it’s genuine,” Longo said.

WEBCO also supports and is working on similar programs in Jefferson and Crook counties.

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