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Durango homeless camp protest extends to fourth day

City councilors plan to discuss campers’ concerns Tuesday

Durango City Councilors expect to discuss homeless camping near Greenmount Cemetery on Tuesday, as residents of the site continue to protest the rules put in place by the city.

The city requires campers to take down their tents each day at 9 a.m. and leave the premises until 6 p.m. The rule, some homeless residents say, has caused problems with theft and property damage.

About half of the tents looked to be in compliance with city rules Monday morning in the camp, which accommodates 35 people.

Durango Police Department officers were on site Monday morning and asked a few people to leave their tents. But officers did not issue trespassing citations, Cmdr. Ray Shupe said.

A total of 13 citations have been issued to campers for failing to take their tents down since the protest started Friday, he said.

Police did not plan to issue multiple citations for trespassing to the same people. Shupe referred all other questions to the city.

City councilors do not want to allow all-day camping on the site because that could make the city responsible for finding a new site for homeless residents to stay if they close the existing site, Councilor Dick White said. He said that is why he supports city requirements that required tents be taken down daily and campers to leave for the day.

“The challenge for the city is the very serious risk of being permanently responsible for having a camp,” he said.

The city doesn’t have a piece of property that it is willing to designate for homeless camping in perpetuity at this time, he said.

The Tuesday’s meeting will include a general update on the camp and an accounting of costs related to it that were not in the general budget, White said.

The Greenmount Cemetery site was designated only for homeless residents who were evacuated from La Plata County property during the 416 Fire to an emergency sheltering site at Escalante Middle School.

The Greenmount temporary camp is set to close in August. Campers must have green rapidTag cards issued during the 416 Fire evacuation to stay at the Greenmount camp site.

Councilors previously voted to designate property adjacent to the Durango Dog Park and near Lightner Creek for overnight camping. However, since the vote in spring, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommended the city complete a health-risk assessment of the property because it is a former uranium mill tailings site. Also, councilors have asked city staff members to explore completing a radon test on the Dog Park site.

For months, city officials have wrestled with a possible site where campers could sleep overnight because they wanted to address the fire danger that they said campers on public land posed earlier in the year.

In the long-term, councilors say they would like to see nonprofits and the faith-based community establish a shelter.

“I hope our nonprofit community will step forward and bring professionally trained mental-health experts to the table to address this issue at its core,” Councilor Melissa Youssef said.

At the same time, homeless campers say they have tried to comply with local officials but conditions have worsened.

“I’m just sick of this,” Millie Sanders said, as she watched police officers rouse one of her fellow campers Monday morning.

Sanders and Richard Bowhay recounted a tumultuous weekend that included several visits by police officers.

“We’re just minute by minute right now,” Bowhay said. “Everybody is sitting back just waiting to see how we perform.”


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