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Durango hits another hurdle identifying permanent homeless camp

City hopes to reach decision by May 2022
A sign posted at the Bodo State Wildlife Area where the city of Durango had considered negotiating a land swap to locate a future homeless camp. The city has since shifted its search focus after the state-owned site presented significant challenges.

The city of Durango thought it had a “promising” new location for the homeless camp at Purple Cliffs: a nearby stretch of state-owned land.

But the city has soured on the option because of bureaucratic hurdles involved in dealing with the state and federal government.

The camp at Purple Cliffs, along La Posta Road (County Road 213), was designated by La Plata County in 2019 as a temporary option for people experiencing housing insecurity. The city has agreed to a May 2022 deadline to create a fully functioning alternative.

The state land, owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, was the top-ranking option for a managed camp, according to a March analysis conducted by city staff members, La Plata County staff members and the Neighbors in Need Alliance.

“We did not eliminate it, but there are some complications,” said Nicol Killian, assistant director of community development.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife property spans 2,700 acres west of Bodo Industrial Park, with an entrance at Sawyer Drive.

Durango has been exploring a land-swap agreement with the state to use at least 5 to 7 acres for a managed camp. Staff members said there is already a precedent for this kind of agreement. In 2019, Gov. Jared Polis and the state Legislature began exploring ways to use state land to address Colorado’s shortage of affordable housing.

The city of Durango has again shifted its search for an alternative to the Purple Cliffs homeless camp, after a state-owned site posed significant challenges. (Durango Herald file)

But the Colorado Parks and Wildlife land was set aside for historic hunting rights and animal habitat, a land use for which the federal government played a role, and conflicts with the site being used for people experiencing homelessness, Killian said.

“We’d have to deal with the federal government, as well as the state, for that land. That’s a long process,” she said.

She said it would take more than 12 months to work through, which extends beyond the city’s time limit for relocating Purple Cliffs residents to a new operational site.

Durango staff members have not identified a new top alternative for the camp, but they are updating the city’s analysis.

The city and county governments are working on an agreement to manage the Purple Cliffs site for campers while the new site is being determined.

Purple Cliffs, where 50 to 70 people regularly camp, ranked last of the 12 options in the analysis.

“In the next month or so, we hope to be able to regroup with the elected officials on some other options,” Killian said. “Our goal would be to try to pinpoint something so we can start doing further detailed analysis of the site over the summer.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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