La Plata County’s campsite for people experiencing homelessness at Purple Cliffs might stay open for another year.
La Plata County commissioners had considered closing the campsite, saying Saturday would be the closure date. While commissioners cited concerns about health, safety and the city’s attempts to find another site, Purple Cliffs residents advocated for keeping it open.
Pushing against the deadline, Durango City Council discussed Tuesday a draft agreement with the county that would include keeping the camp open until May 1, 2022.
“We’ve made a lot of good progress. We’ve done the strategic plan together. We’ve gotten to a lot better level of communication. To have this MOU (memorandum of understanding) proposed is a big step in the right direction,” said Councilor Melissa Youssef.
Purple Cliffs, which was designated in 2019, was never intended to be a permanent campsite. It has provided a home to up to 70 people whose tents sprawl the side of a hillside along La Posta Road (County Road 213), south of downtown Durango.
The site is not ideal: There are fire hazards, icy pathways during the winter and access issues for people with disabilities. It is also far removed from the city’s social services campus near Greenmount Cemetery.
Campers, however, have created a system of camp management, kitchens, showers, hand-washing stations and other amenities to improve the site.
County and city representatives have disagreed about responsibilities related to camp management, and the draft agreement, proposed by the county for the city’s consideration, is the result of weeks of discussions.
The draft outlines responsibilities that would fall upon the city, county or be shared by both entities. Durango, for example, would arrange transportation services for the site and conduct a certain number of property cleanups. It would also manage a publicly accessible charging station and apply for land-use approval.
The county would allow use of the land, post signs until May 1, 2022, and administer the land-use application.
Both would help with law enforcement, fire mitigation, coordinating with community organizations, sanitation and water needs, and compliance reviews.
Some of the details, the land-use process in particular, are being negotiated, said City Manager José Madrigal.
The agreement could be approved by the city as soon as May 4, depending on how the final kinks are worked out.
“We’re collaborating now, instead of pointing fingers at who needs to do what,” said Mayor Kim Baxter, particularly on shared costs and responsibilities. “I was really happy with the way the conversation went about that.”
Councilors Barbara Noseworthy and Jessika Buell also supported the direction of negotiations.
Councilor Olivier Bosmans countered the newest approach, suggesting the city annex the site in order to manage it more efficiently as a single organization. The joint process seemed to add more meetings and delay the process, he said.
The other councilors moved away from the idea, saying the site’s management is funded primarily by joint city and county sales tax. The county might not want to give up its property, making annexation unfeasible, and if Durango took sole management responsibility, Durango taxpayers would be footing the bill for what is a regionwide issue. The partnership also gives officials access to more funding opportunities, they said.
“It’s our big issue,” Buell said. “We should work together.”