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Our View: Warming center needs a chance

Fear of impact might be worse than actual result in neighborhood

It would be rare – but welcome – to hear a neighborhood embrace a temporary warming center for homeless residents this winter. Multiple neighbors near 11th Street and East Third Avenue, site of the new Community Compassion Outreach Warming Center at Durango Christian Church, have strongly – and loudly – expressed concerns. The worry remains the same: the impact in the community. Or more accurately, the fear of impact.

The pressure is on for Community Compassion Outreach to be more than a good neighbor. But we first need to give this nonprofit the opportunity to be this exceptional neighbor. This warming center needs a chance.

What exactly is that fear of impact? Seeing someone unkempt, wrapped in a blanket, walking down the street? Breaking into a house? Something worse? Fear is mostly just that. Fear.

It’s a public and humanitarian responsibility to do something in freezing weather. Money must be spent – it’s not for governments to hold onto.

La Plata County commissioners have expressed support for approving the nonprofit’s $11,600 funding request for rent and utilities from the county’s general fund. The county has $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act earmarked specifically for addressing homelessness. Commissioners will address concerns on Tuesday, Dec. 6, when it hears public comments. We expect a full house.

This comes after City Council rejected the same request in a 4 to 1 vote on Nov. 15. Mayor Barbara Noseworthy was the lone member to vote against denying funding.

Even if there’s no clear, direct solution to homelessness, we have to start somewhere. Helping unhoused people get warm, eat and hydrate, charge phones to make calls to possible employers, as well as being in one location where they can receive counseling is the right start.

Isn’t this what we want? To help people get on their feet so they can contribute to our thin, strained workforce?

Besides, it’s temporary. It’s a place to take the chill out of one’s bones, not a managed camp. It’s only open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays until April 28. Unhoused people will not be hanging out in this neighborhood.

Commissioners also asked Community Compassion Outreach to leverage any funds to expand warming opportunities across the city. Good thinking.

We recognize the city helps in other ways. Tom Sluis, spokesman for the city of Durango, said: “The city provides substantial financial support to address the needs of the homeless in Durango, including the conversion of the Best Western, the ongoing support of Manna, Volunteers of America, housing efforts specifically for the unhoused, such at Espero apartments, and our partnership with Housing Solutions for the Southwest, our collaboration with Axis Health System through the Co-Responder program, and much more in the way of mental health support, housing vouchers, food, medical assistance, trash and waste cleanup, and law enforcement management.”

The city also hears from community members “upset about trash, the safety of our parks, camping on public property, illegal fires and crime in their neighborhood,” Sluis said.

On Nov. 22 in The Durango Herald, Council member Kim Baxter was quoted as saying she doesn’t support a warming center in any Durango neighborhood, especially one near a school. Baxter said: “I would support it if it were not in that situation. For example, on an empty piece of land in the middle of nowhere.”

She caught flack for it.

This week, Baxter clarified her words from “in the middle of nowhere” to “a location that does not impact neighborhoods.”

She added, “There are areas both within and outside the city limits that would not have that impact.”

We’d certainly like to hear more about these sites.

For now, we’re focused on the most basic concern: People not freezing to death. A temporary warming center is a solid beginning. People’s lives – literally – may depend on it.