In 1969, a group of medical workers, university graduate students, energetic counter-culture members and other concerned citizens gathered to explore ways to respond to some of the fallout of the 1960’s, which included a growing number of youth and young adults who felt alienated and disenfranchised from the mainstream system. Many were runaways and living on the streets, and were not likely to access the usual services available despite their needs, among which were medical, legal, mental health and substance use.
Out of this effort came White Bird Socio-medical Aid Station (later White Bird Clinic), incorporated in February 1970 as a 501(c) 3 non-profit agency whose mission statement was (and still is):
White Bird Clinic is a collective environment organized to enable people to gain control of their social, emotional, and physical well-being through direct service, education, and community.
With the help of many volunteers the group was able to rent a house, staff it 24/7, train folks in crisis intervention, hold medical clinics with doctors and nurses, offer legal advice with lawyers and paralegals, and guide drug experiences in a safe and supportive way. Word quickly spread that this was a place with caring and helpful people who didn’t ask for money and who didn’t judge or lecture.
What began as a grassroots effort over time went from being an experiment to a key agency in the continuum of care, becoming credible to the larger community and finding funding from various sources including federal, state and local governments and foundations.
White Bird still has a Medical Clinic, a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program, and is the County Crisis Intervention Service. We also have an Indigent Dental Program, ongoing Outpatient Mental Health services, Homeless Case Management and Benefits Assistance, an innovative mobile Crisis and Medic response team as part of the Public Safety System, assistance to help folks sign up for insurance and Medicaid, and are the County Human Service Information and Referral Program. Our priority is to serve people who are unserved, underinsured, disabled and/or homeless – we see ourselves as operating below the safety net because we try and catch the people who fall through the holes.
We are organized as a collective and use consensus as our decision-making process. We have a salary equity policy that has no program earning more than 25% over any other program, although there are a limited number of positions that, by necessity, are outside of the salary range. The administrative staff are paid at the weighted average of the salary range and have no additional perks or benefits – what is good for one is good for all.
We are a funny blend of idealism and realism. We are committed to being of service to the community and the clients we serve and we share a hope for a better world – we take pride in doing our part!