After learning that 110 students lacked permanent housing last school year in Durango, a group of advocates proposing a village to house homeless and impoverished residents is starting to think bigger may be better.
Community Compassion Outreach, a Durango nonprofit, envisions a village of more than 40 micro-homes and a campground near Durango that could give homeless residents a stable place to stay, said Executive Director Donna Mae Baukat. The nonprofit is focused on helping residents survive and exit homelessness.
In the fall, the nonprofit envisioned a smaller village of about 10 to 15 homes at first, but the vision has evolved as the group has learned more about the need for housing.
For example, 157 students were considered homeless in La Plata County in the 2017-18 school year and nine were unsheltered, according to data from the Colorado Department of Education. Of those homeless students, 111 attended Durango School District 9-R.
Community Compassion Outreach wants to provide more family housing in its planned village, Baukat said.
“We want to bring real-time solutions to the problems,” said Jon Alsdorf, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
The homeless community in Durango has been without a designated camping area since the summer, when the city of Durango closed a temporary camping area near Greenmount Cemetery.
The city stopped enforcing a ban on camping on public open space in the fall after being warned by the American Civil Liberties Union the ban was unconstitutional. The city is now crafting rules that would allow residents to camp with written permission from the city manager or other designated employee between the hours of sunset and sunrise on city open space.
Community Compassion Outreach’s proposed housing and campground would offer an alternative to camping on public land. However, the timeline for opening such a village and camp depends on fundraising, Baukat said.
In the short term, the nonprofit would like to raise about $200,000 to buy land for the village and campground, she said. The nonprofit would like to acquire 40 to 80 acres on the outskirts of town, she said. The nonprofit plans to provide transportation for residents between the village and Durango, she said.
Once land is acquired, the nonprofit plans to first put in a campground for vehicles and tents, she said. She expects the campground itself will be screened from the road, so that passers-by will not be able to see it.
As the nonprofit raises additional money, it will start building homes, she said.
The homes are expected to be about 480 square feet, including a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms. Each unit is expected to cost $70,000, she said. The nonprofit plans to rent and sell the homes to low-income residents, she said.
In addition to fundraising, the nonprofit is pursuing private investment in its project and state funding through the Department of Local Affairs, she said.
The nonprofit also expects to offer programs to new residents of the village, such as a day work program, she said.
“What we are offering is something new, something beautiful,” she said.