City officials are showing initiative in identifying a location for the homeless to bed down, as the threat of fire along the city’s edges limits options and a possible final location undergoes soil testing.
Soon the homeless will have their tents and tarps below the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery, sufficiently near Manna for its services and yet in an open and accessible area which is not excessively fire prone.
The arrangement will be sleep-only, requiring the homeless to break down their bedding in the morning.
The homeless had been caught between a site on county land west of Durango – which was closed because of dry conditions – and the possible future location at the leash-less Durango Dog Park on the south side of the river. The west end of the Dog Park, on or at the edge of the former uranium mill tailings pile, is scheduled to be tested for radon. How long that will take is uncertain.
At this time the city is not undertaking a complete health risk assessment recommended by the state health department.
The homeless, as many as about 40, have been on the grounds at Escalante Middle School, joining with the other people who had been forced to vacate their homes by the 416 Fire. Escalate Middle School, volunteered by School District 9-R, had been serving as an evacuation center. The homeless using Escalante have to agree not to smoke or drink on the school grounds.
That location for the homeless will be open until Monday, allowing for the transition to near Greenmount, but it has proved to be less than successful, apparently, as city police were required to make frequent patrols.
The city council should be praised for moving quickly to identify the cemetery site as a temporary overnight location.
No one believes that the only thing that the homeless require is a relatively organized sleeping space. There are many factors, and each comes into play in differing amounts, but to spend even part of the day in any sort of fulfilling undertaking requires predictable and consistent safe housing, a regular diet, access to medical care and socialization.
While making all of those resources available is a substantial undertaking, without them the majority of the challenges which surround the homeless will remain.
Here is hoping that the west end of what is now the Durango Dog Park – and in the interim the space below Greenmount Cemetery – will at least partially contribute to a workable solution.