Lockers installed at the Durango Transit Center this week represent a change in attitude toward people living homeless, people involved in the project said, but Friday’s ribbon-cutting was just the start of a communitywide effort to address local issues related to homelessness.
A safe place for people living homeless to keep valuables is “desperately needed,” said Mikayla Jernigan, who lives at the Purple Cliffs, a sanctioned and temporary sleeping site near La Posta Road (County Road 213). Jernigan has lived in Durango on and off for about three years, and the installation of safe storage is “a definite surprise for Durango,” she said.
Durango City Council and La Plata County commissioners for months shirked community demands to address issues related to homelessness. But officials’ attitudes changed after residents and organizations coalesced and suggested solutions rather than blaming the government for inaction, said Caroline Kinser, director of the steering committee with the Neighbors in Need Alliance.
A strategic plan on homelessness commissioned by the city of Durango and La Plata County identified community stakeholders and suggested a multi-agency approach to addressing the many complicated issues related to homelessness. Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said the coalition of organizations and a comprehensive plan to address issues related to homelessness catalyzed change in the city, not political will.
People living homeless told Neighbors in Need Alliance members that their two biggest needs are for transportation and safe storage, Kinser said. Valuables like electronics could get stolen if left at the Purple Cliffs site, Jernigan said. The locker will give Jernigan a place to store her things while she shops for groceries in town, she said.
“This is the beginning of better things to come,” she said. “This is definitely a good start.”
The six locker assignments were determined by lottery, said Mike Todt, a Neighbors in Need Alliance member and locker companion who plans to work with people using the lockers to ensure policies are followed. Each locker is assigned to an individual for three months, and users must share their combinations with Neighbors in Need Alliance companions, he said.
While the lockers are a manifestation of the change in support for people living homeless in the community, the Rev. Debbie Shaw, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church pastor, said she’s “more thrilled that people are forming relationships.”
The change in attitude toward people living homeless came as community members stopped “pointing fingers” at local governments and instead took the approach of “how do we partner with you,” she said. The city of Durango donated $6,000 and a place to put the lockers.
But including people living homeless in the conversation also changed people’s perspectives about the issues related to homelessness in the community, Shaw said.
“It breaks down all kinds of barriers and reminds us that we’re all in this together,” she said. “It takes the homeless as an abstract concept and breaks it down to human beings.”