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La Plata ‘exhausted options’ for managed camp, closing Purple Cliffs in 2022

La Plata County’s Board of County Commissioners, as well as the county staff, law enforcement and legal professionals, stand behind our ongoing efforts to find workable solutions to mitigate the homeless crisis in Durango and the surrounding area.

As outlined in the 2020 Durango-La Plata County Strategic Plan on Homelessness, the impact of homelessness on the wider population is felt every day and it has only become more severe in the ensuing years. The recent, disappointing news that the U.S. Highway 160 property will not work for a managed camp due to site constraints that cannot be overcome means that La Plata County has now exhausted all of its options for opening a managed camp to replace the unregulated camp at Purple Cliffs.

The current situation at Purple Cliffs, which sits on county land just outside city limits, and has become a de facto homeless camp since it was first occupied after the 416 Fire in 2018, is a threat to public safety and every individual who occupies space there. Purple Cliffs has provided a “relief valve” for the homeless crisis in the city since 2018. While there have been numerous efforts and stated intentions to find an alternative to Purple Cliffs as four winters have since come and gone, we and the community can simply no longer tolerate the situation there, and will evacuate and close that area to camping in 2022.

The county government, working with partners like the city of Durango and the Neighbors in Need Alliance, have provided trash removal service, portable restrooms and fresh water delivery to those living at Purple Cliffs. In spite of those efforts, it remains consistently littered with everything from human and food waste to discarded furniture, drug paraphernalia and dangerous campfire sites. La Plata County sheriff’s deputies make regular, if not daily, visits to Purple Cliffs. Sheriff’s deputies patrol a 1,700-square-mile county and need to focus on the law enforcement needs of 55,000 residents, not spend a disproportionate amount of their time at Purple Cliffs. Finally, Purple Cliffs is located on a narrow county road that has no sidewalks, causing high risk for drivers, pedestrians and emergency responders.

As we have stated previously, to think homelessness can be “solved” is not a realistic goal; rather, responsible and effective management can lessen the negative impacts locally on both the unhoused population and the greater community at large. While the county will not be playing a leading role, we remain firmly committed to helping with the problem. As such, we will:

• Earmark $1,000,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funding to implementing a solution.

• Continue to be an active member of the Coordinating Council on Homelessness.

• Support use of the Joint Sales Tax for solutions.

• Help get the unhoused connected to public benefits and services.

• Remain at the table in any future collaborative discussions.

We stand resolute to continue working to implement solutions as outlined in the Strategic Plan on Homelessness to help make homelessness a rare, brief and onetime occurrence. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to do our part as we and our partners work on behalf of all the residents of La Plata County.

Matt Salka, chairman, La Plata County Board of County Commissioners;

Marsha Porter-Norton, La Plata County commissioner;

Clyde Church, La Plata County commissioner;

Sean Smith, La Plata County sheriff.