Durango City Council agreed Tuesday to offer resources for a temporary homeless camp established last week by La Plata County government south of downtown Durango.
La Plata County commissioners approved 200 acres of county land west of La Posta Road near the Purple Cliffs last week as a location for people without a home to sleep. The move is in reaction to concerns about neighborhood impacts and fire danger posed by people finding shelter near the Durango Tech Center west of town.
Sheriff Sean Smith said at Tuesday’s study session that his deputies counted as many as a few dozen people camping last week near the Tech Center. The Sheriff’s Office plans to provide transportation Wednesday for anyone who wants to move from the Tech Center site to the Purple Cliffs plot.
“We won’t tell anyone they have to go somewhere,” he said. “But they don’t have a right to have a camp set up in a non-camping area; I will take down tents and they (the owners) can come get them at a later date.”
The Sheriff’s Office won’t manage the new site. City Councilor Chris Bettin suggested the city of Durango collaborate with the county to fund management of the site so that it’s “helping those local folks and families.”
The county may provide portable toilets and a dumpster; city councilors suggested Tuesday that they would consider funding transportation between the Purple Cliffs site and Manna soup kitchen. City Council also floated the idea of using a city/county joint sales tax to fund management at the site.
The council’s most senior member, Dean Brookie, said he’s happy about the progress in establishing a site for homeless residents to camp but is concerned people may not participate in the county’s sanctioned camp.
“When it comes down to (city) dollars, it will be important to define who we are serving,” he said.
Jennifer Lopez, a consultant working with The Athena Group, contracted to develop a strategic plan about how to address homelessness in Durango and La Plata County, said the group’s plans for addressing homelessness won’t work unless specific people or groups take ownership of different initiatives.
“Everything that gets into the plan, somebody is designated to implement each piece,” she said.
That includes the varied opportunities for housing, affordable access to health and social services, community connectivity, safety and a purpose. Lopez suggested the city of Durango help coordinate efforts to address homelessness or realign other strategies, like the housing plan, with what is published in the Athena report.
City Councilor Kim Baxter said it remains unclear how many people are living in and around Durango without a home, but she is concerned one location may not be enough to accommodate the needs of homeless residents.
Lopez did not provide specifics Tuesday about what exactly the city can do to address homelessness and asked the City Council to provide direction about focus areas for the study.
She said a managed camp, “if we can do it, is really important to talk about.”
Babara Noseworthy, elected in April to City Council, said La Plata County government “stepped up and identified a spot and has taken a risk.” She encouraged her colleagues to follow suit.
“We may need a second site, but let’s make this successful,” she said.
City staff is scheduled to present the first draft of the 2020 budget early next month. Mayor Melissa Youssef said the City Council may consider funding to address issues related to homelessness before the budget is approved.
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story erred in saying the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office designated 200 acres near the Purple Cliffs for homeless camping. It was La Plata County commissioners.