A government-led plan that could identify long-term solutions for homeless residents in Durango may get started this year after a lengthy delay because of the 416 Fire.
Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners have set aside $70,000 to spend this year on a strategic plan to address homelessness from the joint city-county sales tax fund, said Interim County Manager Chuck Stevens.
Other Colorado communities, including Denver and Boulder, have completed strategic plans that focus on shelter and mental health care, said Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. The success of the plans has been mixed. But she still supports the planning process.
“It gets people around the table to talk about very complicated issues that lead to and exacerbate homelessness,” Alderman said.
Durango City Councilor Dick White said he supported the plan last year as a way to help analyze all the variables around homelessness.
“I think that’s the right way to go,” said White, who is term-limited and will leave office in April.
White said he would like to see the plan finished in time to inform the 2020 city and county budgets.
The strategic plan project was put out to bid last spring, and a contractor was selected in May, Stevens said.
The contract was never awarded because the 416 Fire broke out a few days after a contractor was selected, and no money was available to fund it, he said.
Councilors and commissioners could still decide to award the bid to the selected contractor by May because the bid was valid for a year, he said.
Once in place, strategic plans to address homelessness usually require funding to meet needs of homeless residents, such as housing, Alderman said.
“A lot of the towns and a lot of cities are reluctant to make the needed investment up front,” she said.
However, investments in services for the homeless can save communities money by easing the pressure on emergency services and criminal justice systems, she said.
For example, a 2017 study by the RAND Corp. found Los Angeles County saved $6.5 million in a year by moving homeless residents into housing paired with social services.
Former Durango Planning Commission Chairman Peter Tregillus said he would like to see a plan collect more refined data about the needs of homeless residents as well as identify some short- and long-term goals. For example, he would like a site to be identified where residents could camp in a structured environment and then evaluate it.
“It would be worthwhile, if it keeps us engaged in the process of grappling with this issue,” he said of the strategic plan.