Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners gave their informal blessing Monday to a new navigation center that would provide a location for homeless residents and those on the cusp of homelessness to seek help.
The center would allow homeless residents to seek help with housing and other nonprofit services that could allow them to stabilize their lives, said Jennifer Lopez, a consultant who presented the idea.
Providing residents with better access to existing services could allow campers to move into housing, she said.
“This is about individually meeting people where they are at,” she said.
The center is one proposal in a new $70,000 strategic plan being prepared by The Athena Group to address homelessness. Athena Group consultants presented pieces of the plan to elected officials Monday at Durango City Hall, with a request for funding.
Officials informally agreed to give $150,000 annually for three years for the center, mostly to cover the salary for a manager to oversee it. The salary range would be between $70,000 and $85,000 with benefits. Support staff could be between $40,000 and $50,000. The manager would be in charge implementing other strategic plan steps, such as collecting data on homelessness.
The manager would report to a new oversight council that would include representation from local government, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, businesses and homeless residents. Council members could come from the Durango-La Plata County Planning and Action Team on Homelessness, or PATH, which was formed to develop the strategic plan on homelessness.
The new center could be housed at Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, because that is where a lot of informal coordination happens already, consultants said.
However, the city and the county would likely put out a call for contractors to run a center once the strategic plan is finished, said Councilor Barbara Noseworthy.
The draft strategic plan is expected to be released for public comment in December and could be adopted in January by the Durango City Council. The plan is expected to include long-term goals not discussed by officials Tuesday, such as a low-barrier shelter for homeless residents using alcohol and drugs. Durango already has a shelter for families and residents who are sober.
Councilor Dean Brookie said he supported the idea of the center but wanted to know how campers who aren’t interested in housing could be reached.
Athena Group Principal Meagan Picard said she plans to meet with homeless campers this week to talk with them about the plan.
“We are not in the business of trying to force anybody into any life path,” she said.