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Former strip club opens as family homeless shelter

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New Human Solutions place has room for 130 people year round


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Human Solutions Executive Director Andy Miller talks with Gresham City Councilor Kirk French Monday at the grand opening of organizations new family homeless shelter on East Burnside Street in Portland. Human Solutions opened its new family homeless shelter Tuesday, just 10 weeks after the organization announced the purchase of the former strip club on the border of Portland and Gresham.

Andy Miller was just a few days into his job as the nonprofit's executive director when he had to sell Multnomah County commissioners on the idea of converting the Black Cauldron club into a shelter.

“It wasn’t just a strip club,” Miller remembered. “It was a dark, vegan playground. That’s what the sign said. It was dark and dirty. The poles were still up.”

Miller announced the purchase in October, around the same time that Human Solution's shelter at Southeast 161st Avenue and Burnside Street was opening for the winter. That shelter will now close.

Gresham-based Human Solutions was in desperate need of a new place that could be open year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with more space for families and individuals.

“The housing crisis that we’ve been reading about is all too real,” said Miller. “There are forces of displacement punching this community in the face.”

On the outside, the Black Cauldron still looks like a neglected A-frame mountain lodge that was once the Woodshed restaurant. Inside, it’s now unrecognizable as a strip club. There are crisp, white walls and new hardwood floors. The bathrooms are big and bright and have showers. There’s a play area for children, a meeting room and an outdoor sitting area.

The shelter accommodates up to 130 adults and children and has semi-private areas for mothers and infants.

Human Solutions purchased the Black Cauldron for $950,000 with the county providing about three-quarters of the money. HDC Community Fund also helped finance the project.

Last year, Human Solutions served 960 people, with over 50 percent of those people being children.

“A project that moves this quickly requires a ton of people to move toward the finish line,” said Miller.

He gave special thanks to Holst Arhitecture, which did design work for free, general contractor Colas Construction, shelter director Charles Hodge and his staff.

Celebrating opening a shelter is tricky business for an organization whose goal is to end homelessness, Miller acknowledged.

“We are thankful and thrilled to be delivering the shelter, but I wish we didn’t need one,” Miller said. “I wish we were closing one."

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury echoed those sentiments.

“It is with mixed emotions that we come here today,” Kafoury said. “The fact that we are opening a shelter that is necessary is troubling.”

Kafoury became emotional when she talked about visiting the shelter and seeing children waiting out in the cold and rain to get inside to a warm bed.

“It is not enough,” Kafoury said. “We need to work together to ensure that there is a home for everyone.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Jo Ann Hardesty, a Human Solutions board member, speaks Monday at the grand opening for the non-profit groups new family homeless shelter on East Burnside Street. Jo Ann Hardesty, a member of the Human Solutions Board of Directors and president of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was grateful to see the strip club become something positive for the community.

“I live four blocks down the street so having a strip club turn into a family center is near and dear to my heart,” Hardesty said. “I live in a community that most of the time feels like it’s forgotten. This is what it looks like when leaders listen to the people they represent.”

Hardesty finished her comments with a challenge to the politicians in the room, including Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Gresham councilors Kirk French, Lori Stegmann and Council President Mario Palmero, to address the need for affordable housing.

“I want to remind you this is not a home,” Hardesty said. “When talk about affordable housing, let’s talk real numbers. “If you’re working for minimum wage, you cannot afford to live in the city of Portland.”