PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Blanchet House volunteers served hot meals and handed out warm clothes Friday through a service window as temperatures dipped. The nonprofit has helped the homeless for decades, but is seeing a growing threat from drug and mental health issues.
The executive director at Blanchet House said there has been such an increase in drug addiction and mental health disorders showing up in the homeless population they serve in Old Town that it is becoming a safety issue.
Blanchet House wants to have a peer support and mental health team ready to go before considering reopening.
Executive director Scott Kerman said he would like to welcome people to have dinner once again around the Christmas tree. But, he said before they can even think about bringing people inside to eat, they have to be prepared to address the mental health crisis and make sure that anybody who comes to access services can do so safely.
“The mental health crisis, substance abuse in the area is just so much more exasperated than we’ve seen in recent months and years. So, just making sure we have the kind of support our guests need so they can have a safe experience inside,” Kerman said.
That goal to reopen the doors just became more attainable. Kerman said that part of the city and county’s recent budget package includes $1.25 million for a proposal that he put together with other organizations to create “shared teams” of mental health and peer support specialists that would be scheduled to serve at different agencies in Old Town and neighboring districts.
“Three or four teams of two or three people who would be stationed let’s say, at Blanchet House when we serve breakfast lunch and dinner, but in between those meal services, they may relocate to let’s say the Rose Haven Day program for women or William Temple House or Sisters of the Road, or TPI when they are providing services,” Kerman said.
Kerman said hiring for the program might be challenging as there isn’t a “deep bench” of those trained in mental health and peer support in Oregon, but things are still moving forward.
“The fact it will be difficult to hire isn’t going to preclude us from moving forward,” Kerman noted.
Blanchet House is accepting cold weather gear to help the homeless. Donation windows will be open at the Blanchet House in the morning and afternoon.