Blanchet House and Farm Support the Homeless
Embedded in the wine country of Yamhill county is a farm where the animals are responsible for healing and re-socializing men recovering from addiction and houseless-ness. The counterpart to this recovery farm is a dining hall in the heart of downtown Portland, run by volunteers and the men in a residential clean and sober program. The Blanchet House of Hospitality serves all who enter, three meals a day, six days a week.
The Blanchet Club was formed as a social organization in 1938 to organize dances with young women in the area.
After WWII ended, a new wave of engaged students along with eight graduates and Father Francis Kennard were inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement to search for a way to express their faith by serving food to the hungry. In February 1952, the Blanchet House of Hospitality incorporated and served their first meal of beans, butter and bread to Portland’s hungry.
After years of renting the first floor of a building on what was considered “skid row” at the time, they raised the money to purchase the original House of Hospitality in 1958. In 1962, the organization acquired a forty acre prune farm in Carlton, OR, which became the Blanchet Farm.
In 2012, the Blanchet House of Hospitality inaugurated their new and LEED Platinum certified building adjacent to the original site. SERA Architects designed both the city-supported dining hall and the tiny home blueprints that residents of the Blanchet Farm have begun assembling.
Blanchet House thrives through the support of its dedicated community. From eight students and a bean, bread, and butter lunch the organization grew in volunteers (7,000+ per year), meals (27,000 a month), and lives changed about 80 men are housed between farm and downtown facility at any given time, over 200 a year. Communications and Marketing manager Julie Showers explained that their dining hall is the only nonprofit in Oregon that serves three meals a day, six days a week, every week of the year. It is “the single largest feeder of [hungry] people in Portland.”
Blanchet House and its communal farm in Carlton do not charge any of its residents room or board. Instead, the men in recovery run the kitchens, maintain their living quarters, and are “jacks of all trades” while operating the farm.
Chris is a resident of the Blanchet House’s clean and sober living dorm in downtown Portland. He has served as night custodian and in the kitchen doing prep work and during his five months’ program. He said that the residential program is “great [because I get to take] a break from the costs of the world.” Many residents spent time house-less before entering the program, and a common refrain was that seven months without paying rent or food costs made the difference in securing permanent housing for the men.
The Carlton property hosts a hoard of community assets that have been donated over the years, ranging from power tools to farm animals and reclaimed wood. The farm is peppered with hand-made furniture, structures, and buildings that have been crafted over the years. Collective efforts to improve and maintain the barns, dorms and gardens of the farm are spoken of with pride by the residents.
The farm’s case manager, Vicky, and several residents expressed their desire to expand the menagerie of farm animals to a veritable zoo. It is easy to recognize the love and dedication they all share for their therapy animals. Ross, a former farm resident, and now its general manager, recounted how he has witnessed residents transform emotionally and spiritually at the farm. He told the story of a father whose struggles with addiction prevented him from developing a bond with his newborn child. Through his interactions with therapy animals the man began to care for his child in a way he was incapable of before.
Ross also struggled with addiction as a young man. All of the live-in staff of the House and Farm graduated from the program. The recovery farm operates in a way that may seem radical in comparison to other residential recovery programs. Ross explains the concept that “nobody is going to fix us; we [must be willing to] fix ourselves.” Peer accountability is valued highly: Ross stated that residents who move out of the farm together tend to be more successful in staying clean and sober when they return to their lives.
The woodworking warehouse serves as a site of self-improvement for many residents. Taylor, a younger resident who has been on the farm for ten months, explained that the Northwest Carpenters Union partners with the farm to train residents in their craft. Residents can go through a six week training where they learn general carpentry skills as well as tiny house assembly. Upon completion, the resident may become an apprentice, with their union’s board approval.
John, a long time resident, lauded the woodshop as a way to build “confidence and learn how to be a part of a team.” He accredited Tim, the woodshop manager and the mastermind behind most of the wood structures on the farm, as the person responsible for the nurturing a culture of learning and camaraderie among the residents in the workforce program.
Updated 28 Nov to correct Showers’ title and number of clients served. All photos supplied courtesty of Julie Showers.