A Durango faith-based alliance has abandoned plans to set up temporary winter shelters for homeless residents, but it is not giving up on establishing a permanent homeless shelter.
The Neighbors in Need Alliance came together to set up winter shelters after harsh snowstorms last winter buried homeless campers.
The group found some possible buildings, but those sites were ruled out because of zoning restrictions and other conflicts, said Betsy Morriss, a member of the group’s steering committee.
“It was hard for us as a steering committee to let go of the idea of winter shelter,” she said.
But the group set a deadline of finding locations by mid-August to leave time to prepare the spaces and raise funds to support them, she said.
Now, the alliance plans to tackle short-term goals, such as providing lockers for the homeless, and an ambitious long-term goal to set up a permanent shelter by November 2020.
Despite struggling to find temporary shelter locations, the group still believes setting up a permanent shelter that would accept those with substance addictions is possible.
“The majority of us are faith-based and are not going to give up that easily,” Morriss said.
This year, city of Durango zoning was problematic for the group because it allows homeless shelters only near Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, on the west side of town, she said.
The city would have to grant the group a zoning change or variance to use other buildings, which would require a lengthy process, she said.
However, the group still has a good working relationship with city officials, and Morriss said she expects it will take both political will and community support to set up a permanent shelter.
In the short term, the alliance plans to work on fundraising and setting up lockers for homeless residents who need a safe, dry place to store their belongings. The group identified the need for lockers through interviews with the homeless, Morriss said.
“It’s not unusual at all for their things to be stolen,” she said.
The group is also working on setting up a mentoring program for homeless residents to help them understand how to move forward in their lives, said Mike Todt, who is working on the program.
Todt, a retired psychologist, has been working with the homeless and found many of them need someone to listen and encourage them to take steps to move out of homelessness, such as getting a legal ID, which is necessary for getting a job. In one case, he worked with a resident for two weeks on building the courage to seek help obtaining his legal ID.
But effective life coaches can’t tell someone what changes to make; they have to help people make their own decisions, he said.
“We can’t tell them what to do, or how to do it,” he said.
Todt and other retired psychologists plan to train residents interested in being life coaches, he said.
To volunteer with the alliance, email firstname.lastname@example.org