During the middle of the night, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office towed seven vehicles belonging to residents staying at the Purple Cliffs homeless camp south of downtown Durango.
The Sheriff’s Office issued multiple warnings about parking on the side of the road, but residents continued to do it, said Sgt. Chris Burke, spokesman with the department.
“There’s been ample notice – verbally, written and posted,” he said. “The no-parking signs have been posted on both sides of County Road 213 (La Posta Road). ... There’s been no effort to move and not overnight parking there in the past, and that’s why we’re doing it now. All of the notices have gone by the wayside; they’ve continued to park there on La Posta Road.”
Amy Hopkins, who lives at Purple Cliffs, said she received no tickets or notices on her vehicle before it was towed. She said four tow trucks were used to remove the vehicles, and the one that took hers broke the drive shaft.
She called it “cruel and unusual punishment because I am poor.”
Hopkins said she offered to move her car to avoid having it towed, but she wasn’t allowed to do so.
“This is at one in the morning. There are plenty of witnesses out there. The whole street out there was filled last night (early Monday),” Hopkins said.
Burke confirmed seven vehicles were towed during the late-night crackdown.
As the weather turns colder and storms move into the area, there is heightened concern a snowplow could hit one of the vehicles or cause other disruptions to snowplow operations on the narrow county road, Burke said. Having vehicles parked on both sides of the two-lane road also creates pinch points for other drivers, he said.
The vehicles were towed at 1 a.m. Monday to help ensure they belonged to people who were overnight camping at Purple Cliffs, as opposed to someone who was visiting during the day, possibly offering services, he said.
People staying at Purple Cliffs are advised to park in designated, open spaces away from the road, Burke said. Campers might have to walk a little farther as a result, he said.
“We’re going to continue to enforce it,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re not going to be able to park and then be at their camp within footsteps. But in order to have their vehicles not towed, we’re going to have to keep them off the roads.”
About 70 people are camped at the Purple Cliffs campsite, Burke said.
In addition to cars parked illegally overnight, the Sheriff’s Office has been dealing with illegal campfires and large amounts of trash being left around the campground.
The Durango Fire Protection District responded to a fire Oct. 30 that scorched a campsite, about 20 feet by 30 feet in size, and required about 630 gallons of water to douse, said Fire Marshal Karola Hanks. And firefighters responded to another campsite fire Nov. 6, but residents were able to extinguish that one themselves, for the most part, with fire extinguishers provided by the Sheriff’s Office, she said.
Burke said the Sheriff’s Office has provided tools and industrial-sized trash bags for the residents to begin a cleanup effort. Neighbors In Need Alliance, a homeless advocacy group, also has been providing propane for propane stoves, so residents can stay warm without needing campfires, he said.
Michelle Taylor, who has a car and has been staying at the homeless camp, said she got lucky early Monday. She was visiting her daughter Sunday night in Durango, and her grandson convinced her to stay the night. Otherwise, she would have been parked on La Posta Road and likely been towed, she said.
“Luckily, I missed all that,” she said.
She planned to stay at the camp Monday night, but she said she would park elsewhere.
“We shouldn’t have had them parked out here anyway,” she said. “They warned us.”