Alberta Street’s American Legion Post 134 Went Rogue—Inviting Homeless In and Hosting LGBTQ Nights

It could be a place where Portland values and military service find enough common ground to help others.

(Hilary Sander)

"Write this down," the post commander announces. "I'm not saying another word to you until you have a shot of Jim Beam with me."

Dusk is settling on American Legion Post 134 on a Friday night. The dumpy Quonset hut sticks out like a middle finger on an almost comically gentrified stretch of Northeast Alberta Street between Salt & Straw and Pine State Biscuits. Inside the Legion, it smells like french fries, whiskey and weed. A guitar player glances up from under his Stetson while he sings Johnny Cash standards and his own compositions—most of them feature the word "lonely" in the chorus. The crowd, numbering about 30, is mostly men, mostly young, mostly with memories of Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Hilary Sander)

"It's a fucking dive, it's a shithole," Al Artero says to me. "But we're going to treat you like family here. We allow our veterans to synthesize a little bit. We think that's going to lead to some real good—and so far, it has."

Artero did three tours of duty, including "rolling into Iraqi neighborhoods while getting shot at" before he turned 22 years old. Now he's the lanky, bristle-bearded post commander in a place that, until this winter, most Portlanders without military service knew best as a bingo hall.

That changed last January, when the post turned itself into an emergency homeless shelter, giving cots to dozens of people during a bitter freeze. "We were the only homeless shelter in town with karaoke," recalls former post commander Sean Davis.

It was the public unveiling of a new-era American Legion, one that for several years had been establishing gender-neutral restrooms, LGBTQ trivia nights and social-justice slogans spoken by certified warriors. It was also a generational affront: The Vietnam vets at the state office didn't know what to do with the Iraq War kids opening their bar to the public and inviting homeless people to spend the night. The Oregon branch of the American Legion threatened to yank Post 134's charter—then quickly retreated in the face of bad headlines in the Los Angeles Times.

More importantly, Davis and Artero spotted something during the five nights of service: a purpose and camaraderie that reminded them of leading units in combat zones.

"These guys just started showing up," Davis recalls, "these guys who usually just stay home on disability playing PS4 and smoking pot. It was amazing to see them just turn on. We're completely wasting all the skills that they have."

Artero now sees a bigger role for the post in civic life. It could become an emergency response network, bringing in local activists to provide grassroots services for people in need. It could be a place where Portland values and military service find enough common ground to help others. "For 17 years," he says, "'support your troops' has been beat into the political consciousness of people. How do we own that? How do we say, 'Here's what our troops want to do'?"

The guitar player finishes his song. He raises a shot glass. "Here's to this place," he says.

Artero slaps his empty glass on the table, and shouts back: "It's always yours."

Best of Portland 2017

This Year, More Than Ever, It's Important to Stop and Take Note of Everything That Makes Portland What It Is

Here are the Winners of the Best of Portland Readers' Poll 2017

Here are the Things WW Declared "The Best" in the Last 12 Months

Inside Mall 205, You'll Find Oregon's Last Remaining Magic Shop

Portland's Raging Grannies Have Been Protesting Since the 1960s, And You Do Not Want to Mess With Them

A Vancouver Man Bought Naked Falls Swimming Hole, So He Could Re-Open It to the Public

Rodney Scott Puts On Portland's Greatest Indie Firework Show

Cabel Sasser Found a McDonalds Mural That Led Him to Uncover a Secret Collection of Art

Two College Students Started An Organization to Provide Bras and Underwear to Homeless Women

Jim Hipsher Is Portland's Greatest Live Book of Poetry

These Two Women Make Showing Up for Jury Duty A Lot Less Terrible

On Northeast Broadway, You Can Learn Boxing From Two-Time World Champ Molly "Fearless" McConnell

Portland Urban Golf Makes the Entire Changing City Its Ever-Evolving Personal Golf Course

Did You Know You Can Play a 9-Hole Portland-Themed Mini-Golf Course?

Seven Years Ago, New Trail Blazer Caleb Swanigan Was 360 Pounds and Living in Homeless Shelters

Each Week, a Group Goes to Laurelhurst Park to Throw Axes Through the Air—And They're Really Good

Portland Now Has a Nonprofit That Gives Kids Access to Free Pinball

Marathon Taverna Hosts Portland's Best Late-Night Raffle, Giving Away T-Shirts and 100-Level Blazers Tickets

The City of Portland Made a Sign Reading "Heartbreak Dead Ahead"

There's a Secret, Profit-Free Bookstore "Forest" on Division Street

You Can Get a Pre-Addressed Letter to Trump from Paymaster Lounge's Vending Machine

A Local Business Totally Trolled Willamette Week—And It Was Awesome

The ACLU of Oregon Has Emerged as Portland's Most Consistent Free-Speech Fundamentalists

Division Street's Oregon Theater Is Portland's Greatest NSFW Twitter Account

There's a Library in Vancouver Full of Hundreds of Books That Have Never Been Published, And Never Will Be

Alberta Street's American Legion Post 134 Went Rogue—Inviting Homeless In and Hosting LGBTQ Nights

Beaverton's Spectra Gymnastics Provides Play Spaces for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

There's a Hidden, Underground Sculpture Inside the Standard Insurance Center in Downtown Portland

One of the Oldest Retail Businesses in the City is a 127-Year-Old Woman-Owned Costume Shop—Now, It's in Danger of Closing

In the Portland Area's Wealthiest Neighborhood Lies a Hidden, Public Scottish Garden As Large as the Japanese Garden

The Zymoglyphic Museum is a Self-Contained World of Rogue Taxidermy and Steampunk

Every Sunday, Portland Hosts a Real-Life "Fast and the Furious"

Portland's Best Daycaction is a Cheap Flight to Pendleton, Where the Cowboys Still Walk The Streets

Oregon City's Tim Kovar Is one of the Nation's Foremost Tree-Climbing Experts

Hero Punk Stole the Satyricon Sign and Sold it to VooDoo Doughnut Owner in Exchange for Lifetime Doughnuts

High School Junior Won a Major Science Competition in the World By Investigating Where Portland's Fish Went

Who Do You Call When Your Goat Is Throwing Up? Portland's Go-To Goat Doctor, Of Course

Meet the Portland Poodle Who Dresses Better Than You

Every Saturday, A Train Runs Through Oaks Bottom, Making Birdwatching Actually Fun

Right Now, Three Dogs Living at a Southeast Portland Dispensary Are High on CBD Dog Treats

Feeling Sad Lately? Snuggle Up to One of Portland's Therapy Bunnies

Pet Barn Will Watch Your Boa Constrictor While You're Out of Town, But Not Your Dog

In the '90s, Two Portland Teenagers Aired Old WWF Matches. Now, They Have a Treasure Trove of Wrestling Archives

Portland Science Rapper Coma Niddy Has the Best Rhymes About Black Holes You've Ever Heard

There is a Secret Willamette River Bridge Most Portlanders Have Forgotten Exists

Hero Portland Man Built an 8-Foot Tall Multnomah Falls Out of LEGOs

There's An Alley in North Portland Where Robots Will Call Out To You

Daddy Mojo's Has the Finest Gallery of Signed Celebrity Memorabilia of Any Bar in Portland

Portland's Black Book Guitars Owner Has Tracked Down Guitars from Elliot Smith and Kurt Cobain

Thank God for the Los Cactus Food Cart, Which, For 14 Years Has Fed Junkyard Customers for Cheap

Two Portlanders Created a Willy Wonka-Style Edible Forest Near Milwaukie

Portland's Best Bagelmaker Was Saved By Someone in Line at WinCo—Now, He's Repaying Strangers' Kindness

You and Your Friends Can Drink for Free for an Hour on Your Birthday at This Portland Bar

The Portland-Area Finally Has Hong Kong-Style Ice Cream Bubble Waffles

Yes, There Is a Place in Portland Where You Can Try Witches' Brews and Heal Yourself with a Fire Pit

Portland's Best Fritters Come From Donut Queen on 58th and East Burnside

When a Pro-Trump Rally Came to Portland, a Good Samaritan Helped Calm the Tension By Handing Out Free Weed

If You Haven't Noticed Yet, the Trail Blazers Twitter Account is on Fire

The New Market of Choice On Belmont Has The Very Best Grocery Store Beer Selections We've Ever Seen

Yes, There a Secret Underground Bowling Alley in the Center of Portland

When Portland Saw Snowstorms, the National Weather Service Twitter Became Our 24/7 Therapist

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.