New ambassadors will likely be walking Main Avenue by early spring to talk with visitors and locals.
These ambassadors will help guide people to local businesses and provide other information, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District. His organization will likely pay the ambassadors, and their salaries are built into his budget.
The friendly faces representing Durango may work Thursdays through Sundays for about 16 weeks from late spring through early fall.
The new program is a product of the work that the homeless coalition, sponsored by the city, has been doing since the summer, Walsworth said.
While the ambassadors are not law enforcement and they will not address panhandling directly, they can be welcoming and knowledgeable and help create a good impression on visitors.
“The byproduct is a way to counteract negativity when people encounter panhandling,” he said.
Panhandling became more visible this summer in Durango and along Main Avenue after the city received a letter in October 2014 from the American Civil Liberties Union asking it to stop enforcing a law against loitering for purposes of begging.
Business owners called on the city to address what they viewed as a problem with overly aggressive panhandling.
A coalition convened for the first time in June and formed four subgroups to address different aspects related to homelessness, but it’s a tough task, Walsworth said.
“This is a very complex issue, and it is not something that can be solved in a couple of days and couple of months,” he said.
Walsworth’s group is focused on both public lands and community vitality.
Panhandlers, whether they are homeless or not, can leave a bad impression on visitors, and his group would like to counter that in a positive way when they become more visible again this spring and summer.
“We believe this issue will be back,” he said.