Creating an outdoor camp and a centralized location for homeless residents to access services are among the ideas consultants will present next week in Durango.
The ideas could become part of a new strategic plan that the city of Durango and La Plata County governments are paying $70,000 to create.
The Athena Group, a consulting firm, formed the Durango-La Plata County Planning and Action Team on Homelessness, or PATH, to develop the strategic plan. The group is now ready to pitch strategies, funding options and oversight options, said Meagan Picard, principal with Athena.
“We would like to gather people’s general impression of the strategies, as well as more detailed feedback,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald.
The PATH included concerned citizens, representatives from nonprofits and businesses, and residents with personal experience with homelessness.
The group’s central idea is a navigation center that would allow homeless residents or those at risk of losing their housing to find help in one location, Picard said.
The center could be open every day and provide office space for the staff of various nonprofits to help with housing and other needs, Picard said. The centralized services could also be offered during events, perhaps once a month, which requires less investment, she said.
“If you can get people connected with the array of services and resources they need, they hopefully will be able to be without housing for shorter periods of time,” she said.
The navigation center would require individuals to register for services, which would provide improved data collection about the demographics of people visiting the center and services in greatest demand, she said.
A new manager of homeless strategies would oversee the new center and run a formalized version of PATH, she said. The group would adjust the strategic plan over time based on data collected from the center, Picard said.
The PATH recognizes the need for a low-barrier shelter that would accept those using alcohol and other substances, she said. But the development of such a shelter would likely require more than 12 months, she said.
The PATH is expecting the Neighbors in Need Alliance, a faith-based group, to set up a low-barrier shelter because the alliance has already started working on it. But the faith-based group has not identified a location for the shelter yet.
In the interim, the group recommends a managed outdoor camp, she said.
“We will be asking community members to help identify a reasonable site that balances interests and needs,” she said.
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office put an end to dispersed camping west of downtown Durango in September and referred those campers to a 200-acre site along La Posta Road (County Road 213) near the Durango Gun Club range.
La Plata County does not consider the site near Purple Cliffs a good long-term location for camping because it is not easily accessible to first responders and camping in the area could pose a risk of starting a wildfire, said County Manager Chuck Stevens.
“The county remains committed to working with the city and all the community partners on this issue and we remain confident that working together we can find a practical solution,” he said.
However, the PATH is working on identifying a different site. Homeless advocates have criticized the site because of its distance from Manna soup kitchen and other services.
The PATH expects to revise its recommendations based on the public feedback. A draft of the plan will also be sent out for public review before the Athena Group completes its work. The consultants expect to be finished by the end of the year, Picard said.