Good Fences, Good Neighbors? 

Social Club for Addicts May Get Fenced in to Appease Neighbors

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A HALF DOZEN MEN sat around a flimsy folding table in the center of the Miracles Club on NE MLK last Wednesday afternoon, September 10, playing one of the more raucous games of dominoes Portland has ever seen. "It's vicious, it's like the Thunderdome of dominoes," called out one man, slapping a piece on the table.

Miracles Club is a place Portlanders with addiction problems have come to for safe and sober socialization for 16 years—stopping by all day and into the night for card games, poetry readings, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. When their boxy retro building was sold to high-rise developers two years ago, Miracles Club secured city funds to help build a new space right nearby. Now, the recently elected King Neighborhood Association leaders want to build a fence between Miracles and the rest of the street.

It's easy to see why neighbors might get annoyed living next to Miracles. On breaks from dominoes and AA meetings, the club members smoke cigarettes on the street outside and carry on loud, shouting conversations. Some weekend nights, the club hosts high-volume dances. But for its members and others, the club is an important service in the neighborhood around NE MLK and Shaver, providing a space for 21 support groups to meet weekly and 100-200 recovering addicts who hang out daily at the club.

While discussing Miracles' move into a planned four-story building topped with transitional housing for people in addiction treatment programs, the King Neighborhood Association recently demanded the design include a fence along the back of the property, arguing a fence was necessary to control car traffic at the club.

Gary Marschke, president of the North/Northeast Business Association, sees the neighborhood split on the subject of Miracles. "Older neighbors see it as a service and an asset. They're a safe and supportive environment that's kept the folks who come to them off the street," he says, believing that new neighbors are more inclined to find the club annoying for three reasons: "It's loud, it's black, and it's smoky."

Miracles supporters say the desire for a fence would physically segregate the recovering addicts from the community. Celeste Carey of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods believes there "are better ways to mitigate traffic problems that would work just as well" and a fence could damage the cohesiveness and visibility of the community. But Herman Bryant, Miracles Club director, says they will change the design to include a fence. Bryant takes his cues from the 12-step program and says being conciliatory with neighbors is better than "rocking the boat over cultural differences."

"We'd be spending all of our will on showing that we've got the money and power to do it," says Bryant, holding a giant black binder of development plans under his arm. "What I'm interested in is getting a stable community for Miracles."

King Neighborhood Association did not return multiple requests for comment by press time.

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