The story of Blake Spangler — a formerly unhoused Bellingham resident who transitioned to permanent housing — has taken another unexpectedly positive twist.
On Nov. 19, Salish Current received an email from Ashley Lindgren, a 39-year-old Corvallis, Oregon, resident who had read the story and wrote that she was Spangler’s daughter, and that the two had not seen or spoken to each other for three decades. Lindgren said she’d been trying to track down her father for years, having last seen him panhandling in front of a Marysville grocery store when she was nine.
Her contact information was sent to Spangler’s Road2Home ally and friend, Mark Galvin, who in early December received an email with photos of Lindgren and her eight-year-old daughter, Matilda. Galvin shared the photos in person with Spangler, who was overcome with emotion.
“It was an incredible moment,” Galvin said. Prior to the moment he saw the pictures, Spangler had no idea he was a grandfather.
Taking it slow
Lindgren and Spangler have briefly spoken over the phone several times in the last few weeks, Spangler said. While both father and daughter aren’t sure where things will go from here, they’re both grateful to have reestablished contact with one another.
“It’s been cool and quite surreal,” Lindgren said via email. “It’s neat to hear him light up when I tell him about Matilda.”
Spangler told Salish Current that while he’d always hoped his daughter might reach out one day, he also understood it might never happen. Still, the hope of a reunion helped keep him alive, he said.
“I’m not the person I was at one point in my life,” Spangler said, “so maybe at some point of my daughter’s life, she could hear something good and positive about me instead of just, you know, the thug life.”
When Galvin asked Spangler what speaking to his daughter for the first time in decades was like, he had a simple response: it was healing.
The two talked mainly about what Lindgren’s life is like now, and what she’d endured to get to this point, Spangler said. That included a difficult divorce between her parents, their addiction issues, her stepfather’s death from complications of alcoholism, a failed marriage early in her adulthood and her own drinking issues.
Lindgren has now been sober for eight years, Spangler said, and is married to a husband serving in the military.
“I’m happy and I’m proud,” he said of her. “She’s really, really well-grounded for what has transpired in her life.”
Still, the reconnection has brought back memories both good and bad for Spangler. While he talked of fond memories with his daughter as a young child — including trips to the zoo, attending a concert at the Evergreen State Fair, and her first Halloween — he is also reminded of the desolation of what their lives were like during a time of familial upheaval.
The two haven’t made any plans to reunite in person, but Spangler said he’s fine with whatever course Lindgren wishes their relationship to take — whether that’s a greater role in each other’s lives or a continuation of the way things are now.
In addition to reconnecting with his daughter and learning of his grandchild, Spangler continues to adjust to life at Samish Commons.
He is managing money and bills, and continuing to undergo long-needed surgeries to correct his health problems. In the last couple of months, he’s had surgery on both arms. While he still occasionally does methamphetamine, he said he is working on stopping completely due to the negative impact it likely had on his daughter in the past.
Spangler would also like a dog — preferably a younger one of medium size. He had a pit bull once, he said, but put him up for adoption before becoming homeless.
“I really need the companionship,” he said of getting a pet. “I like to be off and just doing things, but nine times out of 10 I do it alone.”
Four months into his stay at Samish Commons, Spangler says it feels more like a home than it initially did. He anticipates renewing his lease next year, mainly for the peace of mind that comes from no longer constantly shuffling between dwellings and social surroundings.
“I’m trying to have some consistency,” he said. “I would like to have the same address for more than a calendar year. I like the stability of everybody knowing I’m still at the same place.”
While the person he was a year ago likely wouldn’t have believed all that has transpired since, Spangler said, he is hoping everything will turn out okay. With a mixture of elation and fear, and of hope and doubt, he said doesn’t expect a perfect ending, but is up to the task of finding out where the future takes him.
And as the year draws to a close, those around him are proud of just how far he’s come.
“The last year has been pretty remarkable,” Galvin said. “To see the evolution of all of it — his spirit, his health, this thing that’s happening with Ashley. It’s (proof) for everybody that — at any time in your life — change can happen and better things can happen.”
— By Matt Benoit