East Portland strip club turns into Family Center

Discover why, and how, a dark and dingy ‘gentleman’s club’ was transformed into the Human Solutions Family Shelter in mere weeks …

Built in 1975, and originally known as The Woodshed Restaurant, the rustic-looking building in the Glenfair neighborhood now features a brand-new interior and more clothing.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Known as a “pagan, vegan” strip club called the Black Cauldron, the building was turned into a family shelter in mere weeks – with the dedication ceremony occurring on February 1.

This building – now a permanent homeless shelter facility – will be the third location for their it.

Human Solutions Director of the Emergency Services Charles Hodge takes Portland Mayor Charlie Hales on a tour of the brand new Human Solutions Family Center.

Here’s where this story starts: Seeking to serve outer East Portland families lacking homes, Human Solutions teamed up with Multnomah County in November, 2012 to open what they called the Family Winter Shelter in buildings of the church now known as Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, on NE Halsey Street at 125th Avenue.

> See our story about the opening of this shelter: CLICK HERE. See how the shelter served a continuing need: CLICK HERE.

As the program outgrew the facilities of the church, the Human Solutions leased the former methadone clinic building at NE 162nd Avenue at East Burnside Street for one Winter Shelter season – November, 2014, through June, 2015. This building was also too small, and lacked adequate kitchen and bathing facilities.

Last spring, after Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and the Board of Commissioners agreed that a year-around shelter was needed, Human Solutions began looking for a building that would suit their needs.

Windows let in the daylight in the newly remodeled building, showing off the inviting common spaces.

Last fall, they came across the shuttered strip-club building, at 16015 SE Stark Street. Built in 1975, the building at first housed a restaurant, remembered by many long-time outer East Portland residents. It had been designed to look like an A-frame shack, and was called the Woodshed Restaurant, before it became The Black Cauldron vegan strip club.

At the dedication ceremony of the Human Solutions Family Center, the morning of February 1, the organization’s Executive Director, Andy Miller, began by introducing elected officials and candidates, and quipped, “I’m so happy that you’re here; and I almost feel like I’m in Iowa at a caucus!”

Human Solutions Executive Director Andy Miller welcomes dignitaries, elected officials, supporters, and guests to the opening of the new “Family Center” on February 1, in what was formerly a strip club.

Last fall, on his third day on the job, after being hired to replace Founding Director Jean DeMaster, he recalled visiting the “great building” then under consideration to be their permanent shelter.

“Following the directions on my GPS, you can’t imagine my surprise when I pulled up in front of the Black Cauldron,” he said. “It wasn’t just any strip club, it was a ‘dark vegan playground’ – that’s what the sign said. It was the most un-kid-friendly space one could imagine.” Of course, that business had failed and now was closed.

This photo was taken inside of the proposed new family shelter building during the staff’s first visit. Human Solutions photo

Miller returned the next day to escort Chair Kafoury around the building. “The ‘decoration’, the filth, and the darkness – it was a seeming impossibility,” Miller said.

“At the end of the tour, in a moment of really visionary leadership, Chair Kafoury looked at us and said, ‘Let’s do this!’” recalled Miller. “That really got us going, and we’re truly appreciative for that.”

These bunk sets illustrate the bedding that will be provided for guests staying at the new Human Solutions Family Center.

Thanks to a loan from Multnomah County, to be repaid by providing services, Human Solutions closed on the property on the first of December. The 7,400-square-foot building underwent extensive renovations in just ten weeks’ time, and will provide beds for up to 130 adults and children in homeless families starting tonight. It will be open year-round, 24 hours per day – the first such center in Multnomah County.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury says having a year-around, “24/7” shelter open is one of her top priorities.

Before the formal presentations, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury told East Portland News, “We’re doing this because I hated the idea of shutting down the family shelter once the winter was over. I’ll never forget the sight of seeing children lining up outside the doors, at 7 p.m., on a cold wet night, waiting to get into a warm place to do their homework, and safely sleep for the night.”

During her formal remarks, Kafoury said – addressing the gathering of about 150 people – “Many of families are homeless, although they wake up early and head off to work and school every day.

“These are our neighbors, our relatives, our co-workers, and our friends,” Kafoury continued. “All of these people will be sleeping in our shelter because they cannot find an affordable place to live. We are investing significant resources in order to stem this tide of homelessness.”

Just outside the kitchen area, guests are treated to a breakfast buffet.

Those attending the ceremony learned that the Human Solutions Family Center is a permanent year-round facility with that also includes amenities such as a complete kitchen, showers, a laundry area, separate space for sleeping and day use, and kids’ play areas.

“The shelter will not turn away any eligible families seeking the opportunity to do if they need to do to get back into permanent housing,” Miller said.

“This is part of what we can do to provide a safe place to sleep indoors,” Miller went on. “We’ll be providing families and their children needed services along with the housing. The idea is to help these families stay safe and healthy. There will be staff connecting with guests at the Center, helping them find their next, right place.”

Guests walk through a multi-purpose room – before the renovations, it was dark, and decorated like a dungeon – as they tour the new Human Solutions Family Center.

Human Solutions relies on donations to feed families at the center and to keep the shelves stocked with basic necessities – hot meals, blankets, towels, pillows, toiletries, and diapers.

For more information about how you can support Human Solutions and also about their initiatives and programs, see the official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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