The video above was provided by a reader about 3 weeks ago.
There used to be a time when being homeless in Hillsboro, Oregon was unheard of. It has only been this past decade that we have seen it as we travel about in our daily lives here. After the housing crisis from 2007 to 2010, I noticed it beginning to happen. Being a Realtor of 38 years now in Hillsboro I have been particularly sensitive to this issue. There is only one thing worse than not having a home and that is to be starving. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us that food and shelter, followed by safety, must exist first before any higher human needs or possibilities can be achieved. The past few years have shown us all with open eyes that as a City we are failing, and that as a people we are not doing enough.
Here in Orenco, we see them. Every Winter between 80 and 90 souls make their way about dusk into the Sonrise Baptist Church where a warm bed and a warm meal await them. Every morning they exit and head into the community; most having no set plan of where to go during daylight hours. Not this year though, COVID 19 took care of that.
Beyond that, we know of large camps under the bridge on Baseline where Rock Creek flows West. Another is under the Bridge on Cornelius Pass. Both camps are large but unseen unless one wants to go under for a visit. More less-fortunates seem to be gathering near Lowes and Home Depot on TV Highway as winter sets in. It is not uncommon to see 15 to 20 people panhandling or sitting out in the weather there.
In the old downtown, small gatherings occur on Washington Street on and off all day. At night benches and alleys are increasingly populated. My new friend Jim sleeps every night that he can on a bench along 2nd Street in the US Bank parking lot area. I ask him if he needs help and he always says “No” even rejecting my offers. I did get him to accept 1/2 of a warm turkey and ham on Thanksgiving. He is warming up to me and I honestly want to help in the very real way that food and a kind word can. But I have no answers when he tells me he needs a place to live. I wish I did. Then he mentions Camp Hope.
If you walk the rail lines West of downtown Hillsboro, as many housing challenged do, you will eventually come to our Hillsboro Pioneer cemetery. Walk another 100 yards and you will begin to see a spider’s web of trails and paths heading in both directions. To the North is a private cemetery and a little West of that a golf course. Neither are friendly ground for people like Jim. Head West on the rail and you will find the food plain of Dairy Creek. To the South is open land, Winco, and Dairy Creek Park run by the City. All are hostile territory for Jim and people like him. But stay in the sweet spot from the Cemetery on the East, the railway on the North, Dairy Creek on the West, and TV Highway on the South and you will find it. There you will find the place Jim told me he calls Camp Hope.
Now I am in a unique position because I had this land for sale about 3 years ago for a man named David Sudtell. Zoned for commercial and industrial use the land in question has a checkered past. Sudtell, who according to our sources has now passed on, told me the land had been home to commercial and industrial uses including a gas station, a duplex, a bar called the Hogwaller, and a house of ill-repute dating back to Hillsboro’s Sin City days. He was adamant with me that all of that and more had happened there but that the land was difficult to sell because it has had fill dirt placed all over it by the City back in the 1950s. Much of this was refuted by City staff in the past. Our relationship was short-lived as we could not see eye to eye on the fair market value of the property. Fair to say I know the land because we met several times and walked every inch of it. At that time there were signs of some vagrant camping but no one was staying overnight. The man carried a gun on a holster and tolerated very little.
Since that time anyone driving by on their way back and forth to Cornelius or Forest Grove certainly has seen the activity. About 6 months ago there were 2 or 3 tents on the land in question and a small enclave under shopping carts on the Southside of TV Highway where the abandoned Mexican restaurant and 17th meet. Right after that things changed- within the past few months tents by the dozens started showing up on the former Sudtell property.
Last week dumpsters were brought in and shopping carts heaping with garbage show up daily.
I asked Jim the other night more about Camp Hope- what he calls this place. What he told me was revealing. The word is out, he says, in central and West Hillsboro that the ownership of that land is in a dispute of some sort. Beyond that Jim says that local officials (did not say who) have told people in his community, the homeless, that they need to move off other sites and that perhaps that is a place they can go for now.
“I call it Camp Hope,” says Jim. “We don’t get hassled there, at least not right now. So I go and camp when I need to. A lot of us do.”
Entering this story is my friend Connie. We know each other from our support of High School sports here in town. She saw my FB post about helping my new friend on Thanksgiving eve and wanted to help. When she dropped off 30 goodie bags with gloves, jerky, juice, and other essentials I was not surprised. All she asked was for me to make sure they got to people who needed them. Having just come past the growing camp I knew just where to go. It was time for a visit to Camp Hope.
Catch Part 2 of our Story This Saturday
It was Mahatma Ghandi who said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”