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Group proposes self-governed homeless camp in west Durango

Effort would transition campers to permanent housing
Residents at a temporary homeless camp in July 2018 near Greenmount Cemetery left their tents up in protest of a city rule requiring them take down tents before 9 a.m. each day.

The Neighbors in Need Alliance proposed a permanent camp location near Greenmount Cemetery and Manna soup kitchen in Durango to provide secure housing for people experiencing homelessness before winter.

NINA’s proposal is part of the city’s strategic plan to support the unhoused population in the city. However, former efforts to establish a permanent camp have been met with opposition from nearby community members. The NINA proposal, designed in partnership with unhoused community members, could mitigate some community concerns.

“This site was their unanimous first choice due to its proximity to the social service campus without having to walk through any residential neighborhood,” said Carolyn Hunter, a NINA volunteer, during a City Council study session Tuesday.

If approved, the camp would follow a housing-first model and would transition campers to permanent housing as appropriate.

The proposed property, with 2.65 acres of usable space, would be self-governed with a camp manager elected by the residents, according to the proposal. Residents would have access to water, electricity and sewer utilities. It would house 35 to 40 adults who would agree to defined behavior guidelines and provide weekly volunteer hours.

It would have 24-hour security, provided by camp volunteers, with fencing and gates to provide additional security. The goal is to make it a place of transition and healing, based on discussions with unhoused residents at the temporary Purple Cliffs encampment. With that goal in mind, it could include opportunities for arts, gardening, meditation and gathering areas.

It would cost about $90,000 each year to run; construction and site-development costs are yet to be determined. NINA recently received a $90,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation for the project.

“The previous encampment in that same site was not fully successful,” said Durango Mayor Dean Brookie. “We’ve clearly heard about a concept that is managed differently. The unhoused community has evolved to a much greater extent. ... There’s a much better organization in that self-governance aspect.”

Brookie said the process would likely include a robust design. He wanted to consider the land-use process, necessary permitting, input from impacted community members nearby and input from the Natural Lands board.

Councilor Melissa Youssef said she wanted to get input from community members. Councilors Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy both supported the plan and suggested assessing the proposal’s feasibility as quickly as possible to get the camp established by November.

“What we’re getting a sense of is the self-management out at Purple Cliffs is working,” Noseworthy said. “It gives me a fair bit of confidence that this would be transferred over.”

The process would start with a lease, the input of nearby community members and the advisory board, and detailed city staff assessments.

“I would love to see the quick reaction that you all provided to the downtown businesses,” said Caroline Kinser, NINA director, referring to the fast action the city took to provide businesses with outdoor commerce space on Main Avenue. “If you all could work at that speed, it would be wonderful.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

Jun 18, 2021
County may shut down Purple Cliffs camp for homeless residents
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