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A passion for helping Durango’s homeless

Richard Dilworth doesn’t always get paid for the work he does, but he does it with joy
Richard Dilworth, who works in the summer as a homeless outreach coordinator with the Durango Business Improvement District, works year-round with people living homeless. Tim Sargent, standing behind Dilworth, says Dilworth visits homeless campers at least five days a week.

Many seasonal workers in Southwest Colorado ditch their summer gigs when winter comes – but not Richard Dilworth.

Dilworth has been employed as a homeless outreach coordinator with the Durango Business Improvement District for the past two summers, said Executive Director Tim Walsworth. But Dilworth’s work with people living outside extends beyond his official duties.

“He has amazing passion for helping people who are in need. It’s wired into his being and his DNA to serve and to help people,” Walsworth said. “He’s very selfless, very caring, very understanding.”

Dilworth is at a sanctioned sleeping site for people living homeless near La Posta Road (County Road 213) at least five days a week, said Tim Sargent, who lives at the Purple Cliffs property designated for people living homeless.

He brings about a dozen 1-gallon jugs of fresh water to people living on the hillside every few days. He’s almost always at meetings when elected officials are scheduled to discuss issues related to people living homeless.

And when someone needs a ride to Mercy Regional Medical Center, a lift to work or even just someone to talk to, almost everyone living at Purple Cliffs knows how to reach him.

“Without him our lives would be much more of a pain,” Sargent said. “If there were a few more people like Richard, this community would be a lot better.”

Seeing a need to connect

Dilworth moved from Chicago in 1995 after he “fell in love” with the mountains on a trip to Southwest Colorado, he said in an interview this week.

He was done with the Windy City, where he worked as a landscaper in the summers, and moved to Durango for the “consciousness, friendlinesses, natural beauty and the fact that people appreciate the Earth,” he said.

Dilworth stuffed envelopes for an ecotourism company when he first moved here, then got a job at Purgatory Resort.

But sometime in the 2000s, Dilworth said, “I saw a need for connecting on a one-on-one basis and finding out what people need and plugging them in where they need to go.”

His efforts to help people living homeless kept pace with the myriad issues that have come up in recent years.

“I really got involved when the situation here in town started becoming more problematic for our community,” he said.

Richard Dilworth said it would be nice to get paid for the work he does with people living homeless, but seeing success in the people he’s trying to help gives him the energy to keep at it.

Dilworth attended meetings at Manna soup kitchen, met people living homeless where they are and worked to represent them to public officials. Dilworth attended most meetings about issues related to homelessness where he met Walsworth with the BID.

The two shared a passion for human services and started talking, which “ultimately led me to understanding and respecting his passion for this part of our community,” Walsworth said. The BID hired Dilworth soon after.

The joy of helping

Dilworth doesn’t get paid for much of the work he does with people living homeless. His employment with the BID is just eight weeks in the summer.

But his work in the community extends beyond the BID, Dilworth said. He has worked with the Neighbors In Need Alliance, a local group dedicated to helping people living homeless, and with the Athena Group, contracted by the city of Durango and La Plata County to draft a strategic plan about how to best address issues related to homelessness.

Seeing other people succeed gives him the energy he needs to keep working, Dilworth said.

“There’s magic that happens because of living in those scenarios,” he said of working with people living homeless. “It brings about those crazy little beautiful things that can happen – miracles and compassion on a level I did not think still existed.”

There are plenty of people working to help people living homeless in Durango, but Dilworth said a full-time job doing the work he already does could give him the resources he needs to leverage the rapport he’s earned with the homeless community.

“I drive myself nuts,” he said, “but I thrive on it.”

bhauff@durangoherald.com

May 22, 2022
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