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Storm buries homeless camps west of Durango

Most campers left after 3 feet of snow fell in late February
Most homeless campers west of Durango city limits packed up and moved on after 3 feet of snow fell in late February.

As snow inundated Durango last week, homeless camper Scott Saxon stayed awake one night clearing snow to keep his tent from becoming buried.

“I almost gave up,” he said.

But Stitch, his Boston terrier, motivated Saxon to keep the tent warm and livable. Saxon used a small propane camp stove for heat.

He thought about abandoning his tent in all the snow. But that would have made returning tough; all his gear would have been buried, he said. The snow is about 3 feet deep around his camp.

Saxon, 53, said he is one of perhaps five residents still camping west of downtown Durango.

In November, an estimated 40 people were camping on the hillside when the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office required everyone to pack up and leave the area. The Sheriff’s Office evicted campers from the makeshift campsite after the city of Durango quit enforcing its camping ban.

But about 20 campers remained on county property west of Durango, saying they had no alternative. The numbers dwindled even more during February’s snowstorms.

Saxon suspects some of his fellow campers found temporary housing with friends and may be back.

The Durango Community Shelter expected a large increase in the number of people seeking shelter from the storm, but that didn’t happen, said Rachel Bauske Frasure, division director for Volunteers of America in Durango.

“It was very odd to not have an increase,” she said.

During the storm, staff turned one woman away because the shelter was full, Bauske Frasure said. The woman was able to find safe shelter elsewhere, she said.

Bauske Frasure said it is possible churches paid for homeless residents to stay in local motels.

The shelter has a six-week stay limit for guests, but that can be extended in extenuating circumstances – for example, dangerously cold temperatures – and if space is available. The shelter can house 40 sober clients at its maximum capacity, Bauske Frasure said. Durango does not have a shelter that will accept residents who are intoxicated, often leaving people with substance-abuse problems without assistance.

Saxon said he relies on Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, ever since losing his subsidized housing in October.

Saxon has a back injury, a traumatic brain injury and bipolar disorder. He hopes to move into housing soon with help from Housing Solutions for the Southwest.

He started camping about six months ago with just a tarp. He now has a tent, sleeping bag and warm winter coat.

Some winter gear he earned by working at Manna and some he received as donations.

“If it wasn’t for this place, we wouldn’t have made it,” Saxon said of himself and his dog after eating breakfast at Manna.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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