This is not the column I thought I would be writing in December. Normally at this time of year, I write about how the year went, what things we are thankful for, and I urge people to shop local for Christmas. There is something else on my mind this year.
Despite a sharp reduction in panhandling in early summer thanks to the Durango Police Department’s efforts, panhandlers are back in downtown. What can be done to protect the businesses in the heart of our community, while at the same time helping people in need?
Poverty, homelessness and panhandling are complex problems. There is not one thing that creates this situation, nor is there one solution. There are myriad of reasons why Durango, and just about every other city in our nation, is experiencing this. There are also a multitude of ways to address the problem.
After much thought, research and effort, this is what I think about this issue for the heart of our community:
If someone is in need, we should help them access services. Durango has a long and rich tradition of supporting good causes that provide a hand up when needed. As a small town, we are so lucky to enjoy an amazing array of services from our nonprofit organizations. We should continue to support these organizations in every way we can, as they in turn will help those who are in need.
What should we do when someone can’t access services due to other problems in their life? Many people living in poverty have physical health issues, mental health problems, and many times, they also have alcohol and drug addictions. Law enforcement and health care groups can bring the services to those who need them the most.
What can we do when someone does not accept the services our community offers? In America, one can live how he/she desires, but it crosses a line when bad behavior and illegal activity affect others. The continued bad behavior of a handful of people is negatively impacting our downtown businesses.
The Durango Business Improvement District urges everyone to contact police when you observe or encounter illegal activity or behavior in downtown. The non-emergency number to call is (970) 385-2900. If you feel the least bit threatened or intimidated by someone, you should call police. If you observe someone consuming alcohol or any drug in public, you should call police. If someone says something rude to you, you should call police. If someone blocks your way on a sidewalk in downtown, you should call police. BID and all downtown businesses are doing this. We ask you to do the same.
Let’s keep helping people in our community who need support, but let’s not tolerate bad behavior in downtown any longer.
Contact police to report any and all incidents. Reporting takes about a minute, and police want you to call them.
Also, 2017 was great. I am so thankful for the hard-working business owners in downtown and uptown, and I urge you to shop local this holiday season!
Tim Walsworth is the executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.