In just three days, more than 430 people have signed a petition against a proposed homeless camp near Greenmount Cemetery.
Durango City Council last week voted 4-1 to pursue a highly managed camp called Elkview adjacent to the cemetery, which would have 25 campsites that could shelter 35 to 40 people living homeless.
But the proposal has faced backlash from some members of the community who say a homeless camp would adversely affect people going to visit deceased loves ones at the cemetery, and nearby neighborhoods.
The petition, started by “G Harris,” had 434 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
“Signing this petition will let the Durango City Council, as well as the La Plata County Commissioners, know that while you support providing adequate facilities for the unhoused in our community, you also wish to protect the view, as well as safety, security and peace of mind of cemetery visitors, and ensure the protection and comfort of nearby neighborhoods, parks, businesses and tourists.”
Several people who signed the petition also left comments.
“We already have a problem trying to keep the homeless from shoplifting. This is only going to make it worse,” wrote Lisa Alexander. “Also next to the cemetery!! Really!!! Why so they can ransack Graves and destroy that beautiful cemetery? This is out of the question ... Put the camp somewhere away from town.”
Katie Strum wrote, “This will increase crime In down Town.”
Eric Janes wrote, “Exactly how will tourists looking across the River to the ridge where the Greenmount Homeless Camp is proposed to be built enhance the visitor’s impressions of Durango?”
Sweetie Marbury, a former Durango city councilor, said in an interview with The Durango Herald she signed the petition because she believes the property in question is not the right location for a homeless camp.
Marbury said the city of Durango purchased the property in 2001 to protect the viewshed and keep the cemetery peaceful for people visiting. By building a homeless camp there, Marbury said it will likely bring trash, noise and bad behaviors.
“It’s the wrong place,” Marbury said. “This is low barrier. These are addicts and drunks. These are not your neighbors who just lost their job.”
The city of Durango and La Plata County for years have tried to locate and establish a long-term, permanent site for a homeless camp.
Recently, a volunteer work group called the Neighbors in Need Alliance proposed the Elkview project, which would be intended only for people looking to transition out of homelessness.
According to NINA organizers, about $95,000 would be spent for one-time infrastructure costs, and then the camp would cost about $150,000 a year to manage. The site would feature a 6-foot fence, hygiene facilities and durable yurts.
City Council has not given the green light to go ahead with construction of the project. But, with the conditional lease, a process has started for its possible approval, which could come in mid-October.
“The city has looked at and ruled out other sites, and this is the only site they actually have a plan for right now,” said Councilor Barbara Noseworthy, who voted in favor of the conditional lease.
Noseworthy said she voted in favor because “we need to keep moving on something.”
Councilor Chris Bettin, who cast the lone vote of dissent, did not return a phone call late Thursday.
The petition calls for the homeless camp to instead be located at the now vacant DeNier Youth Services Center located in Bodo Industrial Park, which is soon to be under the ownership of La Plata County.
La Plata County officials, however, have made clear the building is configured as a jail and not conducive to being a shelter.
La Plata County commissioners this week expressed support for shutting down the current camp at Purple Cliffs in an attempt to force the city of Durango to find and establish a permanent homeless camp.