Old Orenco is Old Orenco (Orenco Townsite 1907-). Funky, fun, artsy, old, and full of characters. Many have been here more then 4 decades now. Some as many as 7.
New Orenco– (West, East, and North of the Townsite) is Modern, new and sleek, and fast. All a result of hundreds of millions of dollars of development and building over the past two decades; mostly a result of the building boom spurned on by the INTEL fabs which have been built West and directly North of Old Orenco.
In many ways this story is a tale of two very different areas that share the same name. Yet the people and cultures seem to all meld together and for the most part it is high times for businesses and property owners alike and the people seem to be thriving for the most part.
I have long struggled with this growth and success model. We grow because we are told we must. Hillsboro/Orenco has become a “jobs at all all costs” model City and while there have been significant improvements in parks and baseball fields just as many aspects of daily life are worse then they were before the last two decades changed so very much.
Traffic is worse- much worse. Because Hillsboro/Orenco is a jobs town every road in and out of town is crushed by bumper to bumper traffic for a couple of hours AM and PM at peak commute.
Housing costs and rents are out of control with no relief in site. In fact as of the writing of this article there are no new units being built in the City below $400,000 and most new homes are in the $500,000 to $800,000 range. Property taxes on these homes are in the $500 to $800 a month range. Apartments at the Orenco Station and Platform are now $1400 to $3100 per month.
While I will be the first to celebrate a meal at La Provence or a beverage at the Orenco Tap House I can not help but think of the town I grew up in and the hundreds and thousands of people who I have known who have left or are about to leave because they can not afford to stay here any longer. We have a monstrous problem and METRO has let us down. In some ways the City has let us down too.
What we are seeing is the replacement of a community. Gentrification and these current housing trends are being fueled to a great extent by people from outside the area coming with Cash in hand. So for those of you who have been here for 5,10,20,30 years or longer tell me – is this a better Hillsboro or Orenco?
Home Equity is a great thing but only works for you when you sell or borrow against it.
Trying to find a balance and see hope for those less fortunate is a battle- affordable housing is something I try to work to improve. Where will our kids live? What about those who are only finding work at Winco, or Top Golf, or hanging sheetrock? It takes their entire paycheck to make rent let alone food.
Beyond our housing woes we have a growing population of our friends and neighbors going hungry- real hunger that must be addressed.
Enter one Brother Thomas. He is a local man who is on a Mission to feed those in need. Last month he fed 5,400 people right here in HIllsboro and Orenco out of the back of his Van and Trucks with 100% free food. Food he spends hours and hours and thousands of dollars obtaining from Safeway and New Seasons and places like Trader Joes.
6 months ago his blue minivan began to show up on narrow little Alder Street here in Old Orenco. We watched with curiosity and concern as he handed out bread and oranges and vegetables and other foods to a small band of people. As time went on the small band grew to a short line of cars and a group of a couple of dozen pedestrians. Two or three days a week Brother Thomas has shown up. And so have the Hungry.
I stopped one day and asked him why he was here- after all, the people coming to our side of the tracks were coming from the Project REACH apartments and the Orenco Gardens for the most part. I tried to explain to him that “this was not the right street for this sort of thing” as it was dangerous due to our little Shire having no sidewalks and narrow streets.
“Why aren’t you over on Cherry Street?” I asked.
“They filed a complaint against me over there,” he answered.
As a frail woman in her 80’s reached for a bag of lettuce and some carrots Brother Thomas explained that he was parking on Cherry but the management at the apartments did not want him there and called Code Enforcement who ran him off.
“What about the big Baptist Church? Did you speak to them about distributing food there?” I asked.
He replied, “Yes. They said it was not allowed and that they had their own food pantry.”
An Italian man with a broken accent showed the young family from Africa standing next to me some wonderful Foccacia bread and some Oranges which they gladly accepted.
“What are you planning to do then?” said I.
“We have no where else to go. I have people to feed and loads and loads of food just going to waste. I am about to give up- truly I am,” the man of God with a beautiful crucifix said in a powerful yet frustrated tone.
I stepped back and too a deep breath of Winters air. A small child emerged from the back of a 1987 red Honda Civic seeking cookies which his mother had found in one of the many blue heavy totes that Brother Thomas unloads from his van at each stop.
Releasing the air with a new perspective I offered, “Well sir I guess I have only one thing to say to you.”
“Do we have to leave?”
“No Brother. Not at all. Welcome to Orenco.”
It’s 3 AM now and on my counter in the kitchen are three wonderful oranges and some limes. Over by the toaster is a loaf of Buttermilk Wheat bread which will not expire until 2/2/17; 5 days from now. Those were handed to me in the dark tonight with a nice blessing from our new friend Brother Thomas who was making his 3rd stop out here today. Everyone was fed so he insisted I take them even if I did not need them.
The question I am asking myself tonight is does New Orenco and the City oh Hillsboro have room to turn its collective back on Brother Thomas and those like him in the world? Is it important to squeeze people like him and the people he serves all the way through the cracks only to seal them off forever? Can the new areas of town find a soul that will allow them to help- after all these areas and the respective businesses, property owners. and yes churches too that make them up have benefited greatly at the expense of those who were here before them.
Many of of those who were here before are part of Brother Thomas’s growing flock.
As long as Old Orenco is here I have a feeling he will be welcome. The Old town knows what it is like to suffer. Keep up the good work.