JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Atransitional housing facility starting operations in the Animas Valley has raised concern among nearby residents, but the nonprofit behind the project says it serves a desperate need in the community.
The facility, located in the old Valley View Lodge at 5802 County Road 203, houses inmates released on parole or probation. It will be the first of its kind in the county.
But the lodge’s new use has nearby residents worried about its effects on neighborhood safety and property values. Many also say they have been left in the dark about the new facility.
“We’re just working in a vacuum,” said Becky Rockwell, who owns property near the facility. “There are so many unknowns. We just have some questions.”
The house will be run by Southwest Transitions, a Christian-based nonprofit that started four years ago. Up to now, the organization has been able to provide only temporary help such as food stamps or hotel-room vouchers to inmates on parole or probation, said Frank Hiemer, president of Southwest Transitions.
Hiemer has firsthand experience with the criminal-justice system. He was convicted of first-degree assault after hitting his neighbor in the face with a shovel. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Four-and-a-half years later, he was given the option of parole. After spending six months at Hilltop House, a halfway house in Durango, he was released on parole for the final five years of his sentence.
But when he left Hilltop House, there were no resources, help or a place to go. The experience led him to start Southwest Transitions, Hiemer said.
“I know what the needs are when people come out,” he said.
Its new facility on County Road 203 will allow Southwest Transitions to offer a 120-day program where residents will live in newly renovated studio apartments. They will be required to find a job, attend church or a weekly Bible study, help with chores at the facility and comply with all parole or probation requirements.
The program will rescue men who would otherwise be homeless, said Randy Hannum, the facility manager on site.
“These people will be in the county anyway, transition house or not,” Hannum said. “We’re helping give them a leg up.”
The converted hotel can accommodate 12 to 14 residents, all of whom will be men. The first resident moved in June 5. The Colorado Department of Corrections will pay the monthly living costs for some residents on parole who qualify for that help.
Nearby residents said they worry about clients of the transitional house roaming the neighborhood, especially because public transportation isn’t available that far up the valley.
But Hannum said that won’t be the case. The nonprofit bought a van and will drive the men to the trolley stop each morning and pick them up each evening. Men at the facility must get a job.
While the nonprofit does not require the men stay on the property, many have strict parole or probation requirements that impose curfew, Hannum said. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited on the property, sex offenders are not allowed and violent offenders will be screened on an individual basis, Hiemer said.
The transitional facility is less regimented and serves a different purpose than a halfway house, such as Hilltop House in Durango. The Durango Police Department doesn’t have statistical data on file that could show how or if Hilltop has affected crime rates in the surrounding neighborhood, Lt. Ray Shupe wrote in an email.
Because the transition house is not a change of use from the Valley View Lodge, which was an extended stay facility, it did not require approval from the county’s Planning Department, county Planner Carolyn Pakeltis said.
Hiemer said he recognizes and has tried to address residents’ concerns. While the county location has its downfalls, if Southwest Transitions tried to start a transitional house in the city, the outcry would have been only more intense, Hiemer said.
The nonprofit plans to hold an open house in September, when property renovations are complete.