La Plata County commissioners and Durango City councilors said Monday they would like to see an alternative to homeless camping at Purple Cliffs identified soon because of its steep slopes and other safety concerns.
“It’s obvious it’s not an ideal location by any stretch. ... I think it’s incumbent on us to find a more suitable location sooner rather than later,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said, via phone.
To mitigate fire danger, La Plata County allowed camping near the Purple Cliffs on a 200-acre county-owned parcel along La Posta Road (County Road 213) near the Durango Gun Club range.
Officials were concerned camping west of downtown Durango posed too great of a fire danger and asked all campers in that area to move earlier this year.
However, allowing homeless residents to camp near Purple Cliffs has not been ideal because it is far from services and La Posta Road is too narrow to comfortably accommodate foot and vehicle traffic.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said campers have reported vehicles swerving at them and drivers blaring their horns early in the morning to harass them. Campers are also leaving shopping carts along the road, he said.
“It’s a constant challenge for us,” he said.
Durango City Councilor Kim Baxter said she would like the boards to consider establishing a camp on city property in the Tech Center where the city currently stores snow during the winter.
The site is about an acre, within walking distance of Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, and graveled, which could make it easy to build on, Baxter said.
“It’s a very reasonable location,” she said.
A path could also be built between the site and Manna that could avoid Ella Vita Court, a residential street near the soup kitchen and the site of numerous conflicts with homeless residents. Snow could be stored in Bodo Industrial Park during the winter instead of the Tech Center site, Baxter said.
However, Councilor Dean Brookie and Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall raised several concerns about Baxter’s idea.
Hall said the site might be too small to accommodate campers. The city’s experience with a temporary camp last year, showed when campers are too close together it can lead to conflict, he said.
Brookie said moving snow storage to Bodo could be problematic because the area has drainage problems.
The city councilors and commissioners may revisit the issue of a new site for homeless camping in January.
In the meantime, Smith said his staff is conducting regular patrols of the area north of the Tech Center, where homeless camping had been common.
“We have not found any new established camps in that area,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office also organized another cleanup of the area and collected two dumpsters of trash. Jail inmates helped gather the litter, Smith said.