Durango Police Department will begin issuing trespassing citations Sunday to residents of the temporary homeless shelter near the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery.
On Friday, residents at the site started protesting the rules enforced by the city of Durango by refusing to take down their tents and the effort continued on Saturday. The city requires residents to take their tents down by 9 a.m. and remain out of the area until 6 p.m. Only residents who have a rapid-tag, a green card issued to residents after the previous homeless camp was evacuated because of the 416 Fire, are permitted to use the camp.
“We’ve had it, we’re done,” said Jessica Hill, who has been a part of the homeless community for 3½ years. “We just want to be somewhere where we can get our lives together. There’s a whole lot of reason for protesting. The whole situation is just gut-wrenching and disgusting and inhumane.”
On Saturday, 12 tents remained up after the 9 a.m. deadline. Two police officers were at the site and issued one citation to a resident who didn’t have a rapid-tag, but didn’t issue any citations for those who left their tents up.
“The folks at the temporary shelter were given a reprieve for a couple of days while the city got new containers up there to keep their stuff in,” said Durango Police Cmdr. Rita Warfield. “Starting tomorrow (Sunday), we will be citing for tents that are left after 9 o’clock.”
Camp residents have complained that a lot of their property, which has been kept in locked trash bins, has been damaged by the rain that has hit the area over the past few weeks. Additional bins were delivered to the site Friday afternoon for residents to put their belongings in. They have also said that their tents have been drenched because they’ve been on the ground all day.
Officers were to inform residents Saturday of their plan to enforce the rules, Warfield said. Between calls, police will patrol the area to make sure no one is on the property.
“We’re going up there as often as we can,” Warfield said.
The residents are hoping the protests will result in being allowed to stay in the area during the day.
“We’re protesting to at least get it to where we don’t have to break our stuff down and we get minimal traces of respect from somebody in that regard,” Hill said. “We can’t keep doing this every day. We just want to be treated like people at the end of all of this. I’m mad and I want it to be over. It’s exhausting.”
Local officials have moved the homeless community several times over the past few months, and Hill says they have taken more of their rights away with each new location. The temporary site is expected to remain open until Aug. 25, and no future site for the homeless community has been determined.
“We can’t take care of ourselves because we’re being shifted around like cattle,” Hill said. “It needs to stop. We’re pretty stressed out about what’s next.”
There are not many options for places to go doing during the day, which can create problems for the sick or elderly, who have to make the daily trek up Cemetery Road.
“When we’re not protesting, we either go to work or go down by the river to find some shade because we’re not allowed to really go anywhere else,” Hill said.
For the most part, the relationship between the police department and the homeless community has been constructive, Hill said.
“We’re all just hoping to get along peacefully with this because it’s not their fault,” Hill said. “We’re just trying to get along as best we can with everyone that’s trying to help us out, including the police.”
Richard Bowhay, who has been a member of the community for two years, isn’t worried about the potential consequences of protesting.
“It’s a slow process,” Bowhay said. “There is a core group of campers here that are responsible, respectful. We can take care of ourselves.”
The community hopes the protests will push the city to allow them better living conditions. If not, some members of the community might move further into the mountains.
“If they want to get it together and provide a legitimate space that they want to actually put some time and money into then we’ll comply further,” Hill said. “Otherwise, we’re going to do what some of the better ones of us have done and just go back to the hills where we feel safe and not bothered and not harassed.”