A community meeting to discuss a rash of car break-ins in Crestview evolved into a sometimes emotional discussion of problems related to homelessness in Durango and a rise in petty crime.
Donna Graves, a Crestview resident who led the meeting Thursday night at the Durango Community Recreation Center, said while about a dozen car break-ins have been reported in the neighborhood, she estimated the total number of break-ins to be higher, perhaps as high as 50, because many didn’t report the crimes.
In addition, several reports of home break-ins in a nearby neighborhood were reported by residents.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said it’s a good idea to report all crimes, even if they are discovered days after the theft, because it creates a more accurate database for law enforcement agencies and law enforcement officials are better able to identify crime trends.
Smith said residents should call the nonemergency dispatch number, 385-2900, if they discover a theft days after it has occurred.
One woman who declined to be identified said an increasing transient population around Needham Elementary School is creating a safety issue, which teachers have complained about.
Increasing issues with car thefts and trespassing in the neighborhood was tied by many to increasing homelessness, and many suggested public policy has created a magnet for the homeless in Durango.
Many pointed to easy availability of food at Manna soup kitchen combined with ease of communication with smartphones with attracting homeless people from the region to town.
“Bayfield doesn’t have a homeless problem,” one person said.
Mike Jaramillo, a Durango resident, objected to the city’s current policy for dealing with homelessness and was frustrated with the lack of legal options. “By permitting it, you are essentially promoting it,” he said.
Mike Self, a Crestview resident, joined many in objecting to the current location of Manna, noting it was originally intended as a teen center when first built in the 1960s.
Doug and Teresa Lashley said they have had to deal with homeless residents sleeping in their yard. Teresa Lashley said when she called 911 to complain, she was told police could not respond because the camping was on private property – her yard.
Durango Police officer Padraic Ingle apologized. He said anyone sleeping in a yard of a private residence is trespassing, and an officer should have been sent to deal with the incident.
Describing the current homeless situation, Durango City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said, “I’ve lived here 43 years, and this is the worst social crisis I have seen.”
She said of the fire danger at the current location,“I’m scared every day.”
City Councilor Dean Brookie said the city was committed to closing the camp before fire season.
Smith was challenged after asking the crowd of about 60 for a show of hands if they thought the homelessness problem had begun in the past two years. Only a few raised their hands, but many objected to the question with one saying, “It’s exploded in the last two years.”
La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake summed up frustrations surrounding homeless issues: “We’re stuck between the court and compassion and budgets. It’s a hard problem to solve.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mike Jaramillo’s name.