By Don MacGillivray

Portland recently received some very good news on the homelessness front. Blanchet House’s grant proposal was selected the winner from 250 cities from across the United States and they will now receive a $300,000 “Build a Home” grant.

The winning grant is for a Tiny Home demonstration project to provide and implement a work program and educate 30 previously homeless men recovering from addictions to build 30 homes that will go to the City of Portland as temporary, transitional housing for other homeless people.

It will be carried out at a 60 acre farm operated by Blanchet House near McMinnville in Yamhill county that they have operated for many years growing agricultural and livestock products for their own use.

Five years ago, they developed a woodshop that now makes quality furniture including Adirondack chairs, picnic tables and benches, wood furniture, containers, and conference tables. The furniture is for sale to the public and serves to provide carpentry experience to homeless residents in recovery.

This grant will expand their work into the much larger product of constructing Tiny Homes. About 30 graduates of the Blanchet House program in Portland will be offered the opportunity to train to build these Tiny Homes in partnership with the Carpenters Union. They expect to complete a prototype in the first year and complete all thirty homes by the end of the second year. The City of Portland will then place them in a yet to be determined location in the city.

Founded in 1952 next door to their current location Blanchet House began their ministry by serving simple meals of beans, bread, and coffee to street people in their old three story building. Since then they have served over 15 million meals to the needy and today they served approximately 30,000 meals each month making them one of the largest food programs in Oregon.

Later they purchased a house in central NW district that served as a home for men in recovery and to help them find employment and restore their lives. The purpose of Blanchet House is to aid those in need by providing nourishing food and safe place to sleep to help restore their humanity and dignity.

Blanchet House currently has a new four story building at NW 3rd and Glisan. The property was acquired in 2009 with the help of Portland Development Commission by trading their old site with an adjoining quarter block of vacant property. With several years of successful fundraising the new building was opened in 2012 as the Blanchet House of Hospitality.

This $13 million LEED Platinum building designed by SERA Architects will serve as a residence for over 50 men. It has a new commercial kitchen, dining area, and three floors of studio apartments. Many of the men are struggling with addiction, unemployment, and other difficult issues. In exchange for a room they must volunteer six or seven hours a day, six days a week, avoid drugs and alcohol, and work to carry out their personal plans for their future.

In 1962 the Blanchet House organization purchased a 60-acre farm in Yamhill County and many of the homeless have worked in this pastoral location away from the city. Twenty men usually live at the Farm working in one of several areas of work such as caring for chickens, raising hogs, maintaining buildings, gardening, orchard care, and growing of Christmas trees.

A woodworking shop has been added to their various resources and skill training in the last few years. The guests with woodworking skills have made this a successful training program for others. They have built most of the wood furniture for the Portland facility and are producing a line of quality outdoor furniture.

Newly-constructed Tiny Homes will be used by the City of Portland to make a place where people will live with basic necessities. The Homes will be grouped together with a communal building that provides a living room, a kitchen and bathing facilities.

There are many examples of this type of community around the country. The first was Dignity Village was started right here in Portland in 2004 after several years of being moved from various locations around the inner city. Eugene has the non-profit organization, SquareOne Villages experimenting with its Opportunity Village and Emerald Village.

Benson High School is building tiny homes, though they are calling them sleeping pods. They are a prototype of only 64 square feet with no utilities. The mayor wants to mass produce these and place them around the city with a communial building with toilets, showers, and a kitchen. A group known as the Village Coalition is helping to make this happen.

Portland also has one of the few businesses that builds custom made Tiny Homes. The Tiny Heirloom Company in Oregon City began building its first luxury custom home in 2014. Their Tiny Homes start at $65,000, though they work at whatever level their customers can afford. They hope soon to be able to expand their production to over 40 tiny homes per year.

Other organizations provide help to people that seek to get off the street and on with their lives.  Union Gospel Missions operates a Christian-centered program of addition, reform and employment assistance. Home Forward provides programs working with homeless clients to reform their condition and getting back on their feet to become productive again.