Jenn Coon helped a man with a necrotic toe sustained from frostbite get needed medical care at his tent. A bad history with doctors made him scared to visit a hospital. He trusted Coon to call Portland Street Medicine for him. It takes time to build trusting relationships. (Courtesy Blanchet House)
Jenn Coon helped a man with a necrotic toe sustained from frostbite get needed medical care at his tent. A bad history with doctors made him scared to visit a hospital. He trusted Coon to call Portland Street Medicine for him. It takes time to build trusting relationships. (Courtesy Blanchet House)

During Blanchet House of Hospitality’s lunch and dinner hours, you’ll likely find Jenn Coon talking with guests on the sidewalk. A petite woman in a yellow safety vest, Coon offers assistance to people struggling to survive in downtown Portland — most unhoused. And Coon is busy. Within one hour, she found shoes and clothes for the naked, offered bandages for wounds, directed people to shelters, called an ambulance for someone in distress, and lent a listening ear to the lonely.

“Sometimes people just want to be heard and I'm a good listener. I have a lot of resources I can refer them to. I can get them shoes or a coat or whatever they may need,” Coon says. “I often remind myself that I used to be there.”

A longtime member of St. Francis Church in Southeast Portland, Coon has a rare combination of lived and learned experience. Once homeless herself due to drug addiction, she’s uniquely qualified. Coon eventually found her way out of the fog of addiction and received training from the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon to become a peer support specialist.

“It’s not something I’m proud of but it speaks to how powerful drugs are. I thank God every day that I have my kids back in my life,” she says. “The church is a big part of my life. It’s a big part of my recovery.”

Jenn Coon holds a pair of dry socks she found for a guest who’d been wrapped in a wet blanket for days. (Courtesy Blanchet House)

Between meal services, Coon supports Blanchet House’s more than 30 transitional housing residents. She accompanies them to medical appointments, proofreads resumes and job applications, navigates disability and housing paperwork, and has signed up dozens to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Getting here [to Blanchet House] is a big accomplishment for people,” she says. “They’re the ones who are sleeping in doorways. People with the bare minimum. This is their lifeline.”

Her faith helps her and those served by Blanchet House. Jenn finds that her cross necklace opens the door for many conversations on the sidewalk and builds trust.

“I get so many compliments on my cross. That is a common bond. And I think it represents who I am,” she says. “People are able to say, ‘Bless you,’ and they know that I sincerely appreciate that.”

She continues, “If there’s something I can’t handle, if I feel overwhelmed, I just give it to God. God will find a way for things to work out for me. And I truly believe that. And it’s not always roses and unicorns, but there is a lesson in it and that’s also valuable. I made it full circle. I think it was meant to be.”

Showers is communications director for Blanchet House.