Objects Tell a Story

When people come to stay at Blanchet House or Blanchet Farm they usually arrive with only the clothes on their backs and a few items that can be carried in a bag. Most have experienced a difficult journey that comes from a life spent struggling to overcome trauma, substance abuse, mental illness, or poverty. The items that survive such an odyssey hold great significance and can help to tell a story that builds understanding between us.

Jim holds a walking stick he's whittling at Blanchet Farm in Oregon.

Jim holds a branch that he’s whittling into a walking stick at Blanchet Farm in Oregon.

Jim, resident of Blanchet Farm

June 20, 2021

Jim, 50, lay injured at the bottom of a ravine holding a branch he grabbed on the way down. A meth-induced psychosis caused him to wander the coastal woods looking for a place to end his life. Two days passed before he was able to crawl up the steep terrain. Taking the branch with him, Jim walked until he found an RV campsite. The caretaker called an ambulance to take him to the nearest hospital in Newport.

“I walked away from everything. My job. I got lost for a while,” Jim recalls. “I went into psychosis. I just started walking down the coast.”

Now safely living at Blanchet Farm, Jim is in the barn whittling the branch into a walking stick for his father.

“We haven’t had a very good relationship. He left when I was 11 and I thought he was dead. When my mom passed away he called me up,” Jim says. “He’s no longer the redneck jarhead Marine he once was. He’s softened in his old age. He has Alzheimer’s now and we’re getting closer.”

Originally from Nacogdoches, Texas, Jim moved to Oregon to get away from his negative environment. His hometown struggles with the effects of the meth trade and so did Jim. He easily found work on the coast but soon started using meth again.

“I’ve been here since June of last year and I’ve been battling with the enemy,” he says.

At the hospital in Newport, they asked Jim if he needed psychiatric help. He said he did and was transported to Portland’s Cedar Hills Hospital. He needed a place to live to build sobriety and stabilize himself. A staffer told Jim about Blanchet Farm. He was able to get on the waiting list. During this time he lived homeless in downtown Portland, sleeping at the Rescue Mission, and eating meals at Blanchet House downtown.

“You know, I got to the point in my life where I thought there weren’t any good people left out there. I was so hopeless,” he says of Blanchet House. “People truly care there, and it’s not fake, they stop what they’re doing in their regular everyday life and come help people.”

After a few weeks, a spot at the farm opened and staff sent the van to pick him up.

“I couldn’t fathom a place like this existed,” he says of the farm. “It’s hard to believe. I was accepted when I arrived.”

Jim left a lot of his possessions at the bottom of the ravine because he felt too weak to carry them out. But the branch was bagged up by hospital staff and transferred with him to multiple facilities. He had plans for the stick.

“I thought it would be a nice walking stick for my dad,” Jim says. “I got into wood carving just to take my mind off of things. I’m not sure how it’ll go because I’m a bit more shakier than I was before. First I’ll strip away the bark so it can dry properly. Then I’ll come back and sand it. I like leaving the knots on there because I can turn them into different animals or features.”

Ibrahim holds his prayer rug and Koran at Blanchet Farm.

Ibrahim holds his prayer rug and Koran at Blanchet Farm.

Ibrahim, resident of Blanchet Farm

May 27, 2021

These items are meaningful to me because they make me connect with my higher power—with God. They give me a meaning of life and the future I look forward to. And everything is revolving around my prayer. So when I pray, everything comes after that. It gives me hope and inspiration to be a better person and stay positive every day.

Have you always felt this connected to these items?

Yes. They go everywhere I go, no matter where I live. The [prayer rug and Koran] were both gifts to me. I have many more rugs but this one is most meaningful to me. I had this Koran on hold at the library before it was given to me. If someone gives you a Koran it’s a blessing for them to read it. It’s better in our religion to give than to receive.

And how long have you been living at the farm?

I will be here for 10 months, but I leave next Sunday and I’m excited to leave. I’m going to miss the animals and the guys here. We have made a big family. I will miss the quietness, the atmosphere, and the nature.

Have they been accepting of your faith and religion?

Very much so. Last month I had Ramadan, right? And the accommodations that they did for me in the kitchen by opening late and everything. Ever since I first got here it has been open arms.

What brought you to the farm?

My simple answer is Allah. God has brought me into this path and now I’m moving forward.

What do you hope to do once you leave here?

I will work and help the community. I will give back how this place helped me get back. That’s always been a number one thing. But now it’s to give even more than the blessings I have received and give to people less fortunate.

Zack holds his backpack in his room at Blanchet House in downtown Portland

Zack with his backpack in his room at Blanchet House in downtown Portland.

Zack, 19, resident of Blanchet House

May 17, 2021

I don’t have a lot of things, but I really don’t need a lot of things for me to be happy. That’s just kind of how I am. But this backpack, I’ve had a lot of good memories throughout my life with it like the places I’ve been. One time I hiked from Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Hood. I hiked around the Timberline Trail, summited South Sister, and all sorts of smaller hikes.

I have smaller memories too. There was a time in my life, I was just floating around and I really had no purpose or home. Pretty much all of my stuff was inside this bag.

How old were you when you got your backpack?

My grandfather bought it for me when I was 12 or 13. I was in the Boy Scouts and we’d go on trips with it. I felt really cool just doing things with everyone.

Have you ever lost your backpack?

I’ve lost a lot of things, but not the backpack. I feel like if I lost it, it’s like a part of me that I’ve lost.

What brought you to Blanchet House?

Um, well, I’ve had problems with trauma and addiction. I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing a friend being hit by a train. It was really tragic and not something the average person sees, you know. It kept me up at night.

Before coming here, I was staying with people who were doing drugs and drinking. I was up for three days on a bender of cocaine and other stuff. And then I got psychosis. My mom found me. I went to the hospital and stayed there for 10 days to get medicated and get my brain right.

I started thinking about what I really want to do with my life while I was there. Then I heard about Blanchet House through a case manager there. So I came here and pretty much fell in love with the place.

How long were you sleeping homeless with your backpack?

You know, I’ve slept outside a lot and on friend’s couches. I slept near Johnson’s Creek. I had a spot underneath this bridge and I was pretty much by myself. I had a water filtration kit with a pump and would drink water out of Johnson Creek. And I was just trying to figure out like I was always trying to get sleep inside somewhere.

For a while, I slept in the backyard of someone I knew. It was kind of a struggle because I was just under a tarp with no floor or anything. So there are spiders and every possible insect. I’d wake up and go to work and I would literally see spiders on my hands. They would just crawl out from my shirt and scare the hell out of me.

At the time, I was working for a moving company called Supportive Services Moving. I really liked the work because we were moving people who are elderly or people with disabilities. I saved up money to rent an apartment with people. I mean, everyone was just strung out and, you know, it’s impossible to sleep. I was just not in a good environment. I couldn’t really hold a job and come home to that.

What are you doing now?

I’m working a moving job again. I enjoy moving stuff for some reason. I like lifting heavy stuff. I feel like working hard is a way I kind of cope. I work 14 hours a day and I’m moving the whole time and it’s really physical. And then I get home from work and I’m tired. I work six days a week. So I have no time to mess around or, you know, fall into bad habits.

And those aren’t things that I even want to do or I even think about doing at all anymore. I feel like I’ve completely changed and changed the people I hung out with before. And, you know, in the past, I feel like I’ve been trying to change because other people tell me to. And I’ve never really wanted to change for myself because I know it’s the right thing to do.

And now that I’m here, I realize that I’m doing these things for myself and not other people. I do it to make myself feel better.

Do you think physical work helps you with sobriety?

Yeah, I feel like it does. Especially because at this job it’s a lot more professional than the job I had before. So I’m working with high-end customers who see me as a professional and I have to look and act professionally. In the job I had before, we would be smoking weed all the time.

It feels cool to know that I’m good at something. And people respect that. I just bought a brand new toolset because I’m trying to become a lead there.

Have you reconnected with your family?

Yeah, Sunday is usually when we get together. On Mother’s Day, we got my grandparents, my uncle, and my half-sister together and I took them all out to eat. That’s the first time we’ve been together in a year.

What are your plans for the future?

I have plans to go to more places. Backpacking and being out in nature is something that I really appreciate and love doing.

–by Julie Showers

Blanchet House and Blanchet Farm’s transitional housing programs are free to those who need them thanks to generous donations from people like you. You can give someone a second chance by donating today. Thank you.