Homeless outreach in Lane County: White Bird Clinic’s CAHOOTS

Turning Point

By: Ben Lonergan

Sitting quietly in the passenger seat of a squeaky, white van, Brenton Gicker types quietly on a laptop as police dispatch rattles off instructions over the radio. Gicker, an eight-year veteran of White Bird Clinic’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out on The Streets (CAHOOTS), is employed by the city as a crisis worker and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with CAHOOTS. CAHOOTS, a local outreach outfit, supplements city operated police and medical programs by providing crisis counseling, outreach services, and medical care to at risk, displaced, and homeless community members. Gicker and his partner Maddy Slayden typically serve 12-hour shifts where they can encounter everything from welfare checks to rides to rehabilitation centers and housing centers.

Nearly 60 percent of the calls that CAHOOTS workers respond to involve those who are homeless either chronically or in a short term capacity. “The homeless community looks a lot of different ways,” Gicker said. “It’s very complex.” While Gicker’s work with the homeless delivers him more facetime with at risk populations than the typical first responder, he finds that his perceptions on the homeless have not changed much.

“I reject the conservative, right-wing caricature of homeless people as being unmotivated losers and criminals who just behave badly because they’re bad” Gicker said, “[but] I also reject liberal-left caricatures of homeless people all being innocent victims of injustice and capitalism”

Gicker, a long-time resident of Eugene, Oregon, initially became interested in CAHOOTS while working for another White Bird Clinic program. After having piqued his interest in CAHOOTS, Gicker began to join CAHOOTS teams for ride-alongs furthering his interest in the program. Gicker remembers initially being drawn to the experience due to its similarities to the movie “Bringing out the Dead” (a film about paramedics in New York City Gicker watched as a teenager). Three to four years after his first ride-along, a position opened at CAHOOTS and Gicker began working for CAHOOTS in 2008 as a crisis intervention worker.

“Working for CAHOOTS reinforced my interest in doing social work,” Gicker said. “And [it] also led to me developing an interest in medicine.” Gicker took his experiences with CAHOOTS to pursue medical trainings, first as an EMT, then followed shortly by his licensure as a Registered Nurse.

Although Gicker now works part time at Riverbend Hospital he continues to put his time and effort into CAHOOTS, and hopes to see the program grow and expand over the coming years. “I plan to continue working for CAHOOTS for a long, long time,” Gicker explained. “I want to see the program continue to grow locally and I also want to see it exported to other areas since I think CAHOOTS style programs could be successful in many places.”