Durango City Council: Homeless camp rules must be upheld

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 10:17 PM
Durango Police Department Officer Leonard Martinez rouses Astro Avila from his tent Monday morning at a homeless camp near Greenmount Cemetery. Officers ensured that residents of the camp left the property by 9 a.m., but they did not issue trespassing citations.
Durango Police Department officers Jim Martindale, left, and Leonard Martinez check tents Monday morning to make sure all residents in the city of Durango’s temporary homeless camp near Greenmount Cemetery have left.
A resident in the city of Durango’s temporary homeless camp near Greenmount Cemetery leaves her tent with her dog, Resin, on Monday morning as Lisa Sontag, a camp helper, asks if she’s OK.
Residents of Durango’s temporary homeless camp from left, Clearance Robh; Sylvester Agoodie, a nonresident of the camp; Millie Sanders and Richard Bowhay sit outside of the camp near Greenmount Cemetery on Monday morning.

Durango City Council agreed Tuesday rules governing the homeless camp at Greenmount Cemetery must be upheld.

“If you can’t agree to them, then you need to leave. That is real life,” Mayor Sweetie Marbury said.

In recent days, some campers have been leaving their tents up in protest of the city’s rules that require them to break camp every day and leave the site between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. About 35 people who were evacuated from La Plata County property during the 416 Fire are allowed to stay on the site. They say that following the rules has led to problems, including theft and property damage.

The city has provided additional trash cans and locks for property storage, Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said.

City Attorney Dirk Nelson told the council that a permanent camp near Greenmount could jeopardize future funding for a homeless shelter. Housing and Urban Development grant money cannot be used to build housing that would displace homeless residents, he said. The city also wants to avoid triggering a requirement to cover the cost to relocate people who are displaced, he said.

“We have to enforce the rules of the camp so we can maintain this much bigger picture of having a permanent supportive facility,” Councilor Chris Bettin said.

The site at Greenmount is slated to close Aug. 25, and the city has not identified another site that could be used for overnight camping.

“We created this to help people. We were compassionate, but we have an end date,” Marbury said.

The council has not identified where campers would stay when the site near Greenmount closes, and two councilors said they were not in favor of campers moving to the site adjacent to the Durango Dog Park.

If a designated site for camping is not provided, it is likely that homeless residents will camp illegally on public land, Councilor Melissa Youssef said.

The city can enforce it’s no-camping ban, but it won’t make the problem go away, she said.

Four new seasonal park rangers have been hired to help enforce the camping ban.

The councilors agreed they were looking forward to the recommendations they expect will be presented by Axis Health System and a small group of nonprofits in early August.

The council has repeatedly asked for nonprofits and faith-based organizations to help address the need for shelter in the community.

“I hope that the social service organizations and our faith communities will take seriously the urgency of acting,” Councilor Dick White said.