Long-term housing for homeless people in Durango could help them put their lives back together and lower the strain on public health care and other social services.
“If you take care of housing first, then the other needs will naturally take care of themselves,” La Plata County Court Judge Martha Minot said.
Pursuing this housing project was one of the next steps the Durango Homeless Coalition would like to take, Minot told the Durango City Council on Tuesday.
It may be possible to build 30 to 40 units of permanent housing for the homeless on city land south of Avenida del Sol, near other social service providers, said Greg Hoch, the director of community development. Social service workers would live in the apartment buildings to help the residents find services.
This model of providing housing first has been successful in Utah and other places in Colorado because once an individual has a home, he or she can focus on other issues like addiction, research shows.
“PSH (Permanent supportive housing) can provide a stable place to live without any ultimatums,” Hoch said.
To be built, the project would have to qualify for tax credits, he said. The requirements for moving into the housing would likely be decided by the agency running the housing.
Aside from housing models, the coalition has also been working to understand the problem of homelessness, educating the public on giving to charity rather than panhandlers and educating the homeless community on camping safely.
To better understand the issue, a Fort Lewis College professor and his class surveyed 38 homeless people in Durango.
More than a third of the group has been homeless for more than 13 years, and many moved here because they have family in the area, said Ben Delin with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
It may be that these people cannot live with family because of their drug and alcohol additions, Minot said.
In addition to housing, the coalition recommended forming a group that would focus solely on serving homeless people.
City councilors lauded the coalition’s work so far, and they promised to continue to support them. The city-formed coalition started meeting this summer after panhandling became a more visible problem in town.
“You can count of the city of Durango for some level of support,” Mayor Dean Brookie said.