Origin Story

Outside In was founded in June 1968 by Dr. Charles Spray, Arnold Goldberg, and Mary Lu Zurcher as one of the first free community health clinics in the U.S. and one of the earliest on the West Coast, along with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics and the Los Angeles Free Clinic. The organization was founded to serve Portland’s “alienated youth,” some of whom had substance use problems and most of whom had mental health issues. Outside In initially rented its Downtown Portland space from the First Unitarian Church of Portland. Dr. Spray helped found the organization after learning that the Unitarian church’s youth coffeehouse space, Charix was in danger of being shut down because of its association with the 1960s drug culture. Some of the group’s early work involved staffing a 24-hour crisis hotline that was later spun off to form the Metro Crisis Intervention Service.

    Honoring Outside In’s “Change-Maker”

    Kathy Oliver | Former Executive Director

    “One reason I think Outside In has survived and done so well is that we have changed continually. I thrive on change. I really like it. I think it’s important. The clients and their needs are continually changing; I want the agency to keep on changing, too.” Kathy Oliver
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    Success Stories


    As a patient at Outside In, the dignity, compassion, and respect that I was shown by staff truly had a lasting impact on me and directly resulted in me wanting to get involved in helping my community.


    Outside In made me want to be around excellence. Outside In shaped me. It taught me how to be kind to people less fortunate.


    When I came out as trans and reached out to the community for help, everyone had something good to say about Outside In.


    Through these connections I was able to get into school and graduate as a Certified Medical Assistant


    Through Outside In’s guidance and support, I was in my own apartment completely self-sufficient within a week.


    If you met me today, you might never imagine I spent countless nights sleeping under the Burnside Bridge.


    I wanted independence and stability. I wanted to belong. I found Outside In.


    Housing at Outside In is so much more than a roof over your head. The staff is helpful and amazing. They were always there for us anticipating our needs. Finally, we weren’t hungry anymore and we were safe.


    I feel safe at Outside In. I love Outside In people. How they love us, care for us. The wonderful and fresh food, the health care, the accommodations, the hospitalities. People talking to me, listening to me. Changing lives. It is a great moment.


    By the time I was 17, I didn't trust anybody...except Outside In. The staff took my concerns seriously, and took a holistic approach. They protected me.