Transportation is one of the top concerns for people living homeless in the Purple Cliffs area south of downtown Durango. But they may soon have an easier time getting around thanks to an agreement being negotiated between the city of Durango, La Plata County government and the Southwest Center for Independence.
Since being moved from western city limits to the Purple Cliffs area, homeless residents have struggled to access social services, the Manna soup kitchen, public transportation and fresh water.
Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said Tuesday he “couldn’t imagine” walking along La Posta Road (County Road 213) every day to get to and from services: “It’s an accident waiting to happen.” His comments echoed a conversation between the City Council and county commissioners in November, when elected officials asked city and county employees to find an alternative location for people to sleep.
But the prospect of moving people from the site “did not resonate with the Purple Cliffs population,” said Kevin Hall, assistant city manager spearheading issues related to homelessness. People living near the base of the rocky hillside have built fortified campsites to protect themselves from the elements, said La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith.
“They’re kind of settled in and don’t want to duplicate their efforts,” he said.
County commissioners began allowing homeless camping on 200 acres of county-owned land west of La Posta Road at the end of September. By November, about two dozen people called the site home, according to people living at Purple Cliffs. As of this week, almost three dozen people live on the hillside, Smith said.
Durango and La Plata County have since agreed to spend sales tax money shared between the two governments to support the Purple Cliffs community, said interim City Manager Amber Blake. Municipal and county employees offered Southwest Center for Independence a contract for transportation services, which Blake said could be signed by Jan. 1.
Offering people a ride could reduce the burden of hauling water from faraway faucets, said Councilor Kim Baxter. Southwest Center for Independence bus drivers are also familiar with services the nonprofit offers and can work with people living homeless with budgeting, peer support, housing and skills training, said Executive Director Martha Mason, in an interview.
“We’re hoping to hook people who are homeless or who have disabilities with resources to take the next step forward in their own lives and be a better part of community,” she said. “For us, it’s a matter of working with people ready to take that next step and be a part of directing their own lives and addressing their own issues.”
Contract negotiations are pending, but Mason said government officials have asked the nonprofit for cost estimates to run a van or bus from the Purple Cliffs site to the Transit Center, Manna soup kitchen and the social services campus at the Durango Tech Center three times a day.
But sales tax revenue from the city of Durango and La Plata County dedicated to transportation will not be available until Jan. 1. Brookie suggested a special appropriation may be worth considering, something city staff plans to explore.
Blake said staff may be prepared to present proposals at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting. The interim city manager did not respond to calls Wednesday for comment.