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Durango, La Plata County agree to delay decision on management of homeless camp

Local governments commit $100,000 to issue in 2021
Timothy Sargent, center, camp leader at the Purple Cliffs, and others gathered at the camp’s community kitchen earlier this year. The site for homeless campers along La Posta Road (County Road 213) will remain open through the winter.

The city of Durango and La Plata County delayed finalizing a management agreement for the homeless camp at Purple Cliffs along La Posta Road to later this year.

County commissioners have taken a hard stance in recent weeks, urging the city to find an alternative camp location for the county’s unhoused population. Commissioners even threatened to close the Purple Cliffs camp, home to about 60 people, in an attempt to force the city’s hand.

But during a joint meeting Tuesday, County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, one of the strongest voices pushing the city to take action quickly, backed off.

“If we can’t work out an (agreement), I don’t think it’s the end of the world. We know our camp is going to be open until next May. You guys have freedom to do other things,” Westendorff said to city councilors during the meeting. “I don’t want a failure to work out a (memorandum of understanding) to somehow be a reflection of an inability to solve this issue.”

“That shocked the hell out of me,” said Mayor Dean Brookie about Westendorff’s comments in an interview after the meeting. “The county can say it will close down the camp, but we all understand that is not the responsible thing to do. The real solution is to mutually arrive at a solution.”

La Plata County offered its land at Purple Cliffs as a temporary camp location in 2019, understanding the city would search for a permanent camp location.

But the city’s search has floundered, producing no feasible alternatives. With nowhere to go, and winter approaching, campers and advocates for the unhoused population pushed to keep the camp at Purple Cliffs open through the winter.

Commissioners, increasingly frustrated, proposed a draft agreement Oct. 1 outlining camp management and setting a May 1 deadline to close the camp.

The first draft placed most of the management responsibilities on the city, prompting objections from city councilors who said they had little time to consider it. County and city staff members planned to present another draft Tuesday, but no agreement was presented.

“I would characterize our meeting as very positive in nature. I believe both parties were negotiating in good faith,” said County Manager Chuck Stevens.

“I do agree that we have made some substantial progress. Hopefully, we’ll see something completed here in the next few weeks,” said City Manager Jose Madrigal.

The city and county also veered away from using city-owned land near the existing Purple Cliffs site, which some city councilors had suggested as a way to help provide for unhoused campers.

“Maybe it’s not a good idea,” said Councilor Melissa Youssef. “I brought this up as an idea to address the short-term, immediate needs of this winter. If that’s not deemed a valuable addition, then by all means, we should not do that.”

Since the beginning of September, Durango has also moved away from a managed transitional housing camp near Greenmount Cemetery and briefly considered a camp location in Bodo Industrial Park.

One decision the officials did make was to allocate $100,000 of joint sales tax money to homeless expenses in 2021.

“The salient point is that we just budgeted $100,000 into next year to address these issues mutually, which I think is a success story in itself,” Brookie said. “It moves us into the future with this continued temporary camp ... and allows us to continue to research, mutually, future sites.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

Nov 29, 2021
Durango renews site search for homeless community
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