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Sheriff’s Office evicts homeless from hillside

Dozens of people without homes live on the hillside southwest of Durango

Timothy Sargent keeps his campsite clean. He encourages others to do the same. But there are always bad apples in every bunch, something he said is used to paint the entire homeless community with a broad brush stroke.

“Some of the new homeless, they’re used to going to their trash can, they’re not used to being out here where you have to clean up after yourself,” Sargent said from his campsite on a hillside Friday west of Durango. “How do you tell a drug addict to clean up their campsite when they don’t care about themselves?”

Sargent is one of dozens of people without a home who live in a wooded area just west of city limits, a community the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday gave 48 hours to disperse because it trashed the hillside.

Most people moved on after receiving the warning Wednesday; but a few held their ground Friday, saying they have no plans to vacate. Sheriff’s deputies gave them through the weekend to move.

Tabitha Anderson/Niver feels the stress Friday of not knowing where she will move if forced to leave her campsite west of Durango city limits.

Christopher Rodgers and Tabitha Anderson/Niver were among those who stood their ground Friday. Rodgers said sheriff’s deputies stopped by their campsite and told them they have through the weekend to leave. The deputies suggested they move to Horse Gulch, open space on the other side of town, but the pair share a bed and said moving would be difficult.

The pair were told to get out as soon as possible, but the sun began setting before they could get all their gear packed up, Anderson/Niver said.

“Everybody needs to be looked at and helped,” Anderson/Niver said. “... Everybody needs to find out why people are homeless.”

Sargent said he has no plans of moving. He’ll go to jail if he has to. He said telling everyone to leave for the misbehavior of a few puts him and his friends in the position of discrimination. He said if law enforcement wants to be effective, it needs to work with the community and cite individuals for trashing the place, not punish the entire group.

“We have to stop painting everyone with the same brush,” Sargent said.

Burke said the Sheriff’s Office would handle anyone refusing to leave on a case-by-case basis. People won’t be cited for being homeless, Burke said, but if they commit other crimes, such as littering or assault, they could be cited.

Christopher Rodgers keeps a copy of The Durango Herald that has information about where homeless camping is allowed. But the city of Durango and La Plata County have changed policies several times this year with respect to homeless camping and where it is allowed.

Earlier this year, a panel of federal judges with the 9th Judicial Circuit Court found that outlawing sleeping on public property when people have nowhere else to rest is unconstitutional. Doing so is cruel and unusual punishment, the court found. The ruling prompted the city of Durango to issue a moratorium on its camping ban to allow people to sleep on city-owned open space, excluding sidewalks and parks, between the hours of sunrise and sunset.

The homeless community has been bounced around during the past year as La Plata County and the city of Durango have opened and closed spaces for people without homes to sleep. They’ve been allowed, then disallowed, to sleep on the eastern slope of Hogsback – a camp set up by the La Plata Sheriff’s Office, then moved to Escalante Middle School during the 416 Fire and then moved to a makeshift campsite near Greenmount Cemetery. All the while, the city told homeless residents it was working on a permanent solution, possibly allowing homeless camping near the Durango Dog Park, but those plans also have been scrapped.

In evicting dozens of people from the hillside west of Durango, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said the city’s moratorium means homeless people now have a place to sleep.

Rodgers said a lack of communication has made it difficult for him and his peers to know where to go. The homeless community has been dehumanized, something Rodgers said makes things even more difficult in his already challenging situation.

“It seems like they’re trying to run us out of here,” Rodgers said. “Instead of pushing everyone around, they should try to help us.”


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