City staff and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office plan to survey homeless residents about permanent housing options and their other needs.
“In order for there to be success, the homeless community needs to be engaged,” said Assistant City Manager Amber Blake.
The city is researching sites for a permanent campground for homeless residents and the staffs want to find out through the survey if homeless residents would be willing to move to a permanent camp, said Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall.
The survey questions are not finished; it could be distributed in August through a camp host who helps to govern the homeless camp informally established by the Sheriff’s Office north of the Tech Center, Blake said.
Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission seemed to support the survey when it was discussed at a joint meeting this week.
“It’s crucial to understand our neighbors that don’t have homes,” said Mayor Dick White.
The Sheriff’s Office worked with homeless residents to govern the camp near the Tech Center for legal and safety reasons.
The community does not have enough beds for the homeless community, and if people are arrested for sleeping in public places when they have no other option, it could be violating their rights.
Encouraging campers to govern themselves has also led to a cleaner camp and a registry of the people staying there. About 40 people camp on the hill, and 60 percent of them have jobs, said Lt. Ed Aber with the Sheriff’s Office.
If a permanent campground was established with room for everyone, the Sheriff’s Office could enforce the no-camping laws that exist.
City staff are researching sites for an established campground with bathrooms and running water. In towns that have had success with permanent campgrounds, they are transitional, Hall said.
“The camp is meant to be a place where you stop shortly and then you move into permanent supportive housing,” Hall said.
Permanent supportive housing provides staff to help people recover from addiction, trauma and other problems.
“We can’t really do one without the other. We need to find out how to fit all of the pegs together,” Blake said of a campground and permanent supportive housing.
The city is evaluating several sites for the camp. One location that received a lot of attention is on Avenida del Sol, near Manna, which provides a soup kitchen and other community services.
The city is also considering a site off County Road 210 that the city uses for storage; a piece of the Durango Dog Park on U.S. Highway 160; a site near the La Plata County jail in Bodo Industrial Park; and a parcel near the capped county landfill north of the Tech Center. City staff plans to look at land-use development requirements, environmental constraints, what people might use and cost as part of the evaluation of all sites, Blake said.
County Commissioner Julie Westendorff expressed concern at the meeting about establishing a camp far away from services.
“If you are saying let’s put this camp two and a half miles from where the things you need are, I don’t think anyone is going to go there,” she said.
Conversely, Councilor Sweetie Marbury is worried about building a camp too close to housing provided by the Durango Community Shelter and Housing Solutions for the Southwest because of the families and students trying to put their lives back together and the camp could be disruptive, she said. She favors using the site on the social services campus on Avenida del Sol for permanent supportive housing.
Commissioner Brad Blake said it may be incorrect to make a distinction between the people living in tents and those living in the shelter. Many living in tents would likely choose to live in the shelter if they could.
“Many of these people are being impacted by the criminal element, too,” he said about campers.
While the city continues research, the Sheriff’s Office plans to install port-a-potties and bear-proof trash cans at the current camp, Sheriff Sean Smith said.