Purple Cliffs Homeless Camp “Not Working”

6/10/2022

After five years of looking, La Plata County and the City of Durango have found a site to establish a managed camp for residents experiencing homelessness. This story is sponsored by Closets Plus and Happy Pappy's Pizza and Wings

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The problematic homeless camp in the Purple Cliffs area along County Road 203 will be closed before next winter, and perhaps sooner if La Plata County and the city of Durango successfully establish a managed camp in West Durango. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Happy Pappy's Pizza-N-Wings and Closets Plus. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. The LA Plata County Commissioners are moving ahead with plans to establish a managed homeless camp with the city of Durango's support. Earlier this spring, the commissioners voted to purchase four lots, totaling a little more than an acre, west of the Durango Dog Park, and the price tag, $1.7 million. The county will use one time revenues it received from the American Rescue Plan, a federal program to help communities offset expenses related to the pandemic. The offer comes after a five year search for an alternative site to replace what was supposed to be a temporary homeless camp at the Purple Cliffs on County Road 203, across from Walmart.

Purple cliffs is untenable. It doesn't meet state or local code, it's out of compliance and it is unsanitary. It has never gone through a land use process. And so, you know, the land use process gives the public a chance to say what they think, and this time it would be the city taking it through a land use process.

The new managed camp will end a saga that started more than six years ago when the county attempted to manage illegal campers around the old landfill site north of the city recycling center. Campers were relocated to Escalante Middle School during the 4/16 fire, then to a city lot adjacent to Green Mount Cemetery. After complaints from neighboring residents, the campers were allowed to move temporarily to the Purple Cliffs site until the city and county could agree on a permanent location for a managed homeless camp. That was in 2019, and both government entities have struggled since to find an appropriate location that wasn't close to residential neighborhoods or the downtown business district. Once the camp is open, the county will close the Purple Cliffs camp and will prohibit camping on all county lands. Commissioners said the managed camp alternative will boost the county's authority to manage where homeless residents may camp, because courts have ruled in past civil rights cases, that the homeless have the right to camp on public lands if no alternatives are available.

We'll be able to have a more legal leg to stand on for our Sheriff's department to enforce no camping on La Plata County. If you would like to camp at the managed camps facility, please go to it when that time comes, or go to somewhere else that allows that type of camping. And so that's, at least what I see, is a good solution for people that would like to camp out in wilderness.

Before the sale is final and the camp can be established, the county must obtain city land use approval. On Friday before the Memorial day weekend, the county issued a request for proposals from organizations, interested in designing and operating the camp. Once a management firm is selected, most likely in July, the contractor will vet the managed camp proposal through the city's land use process. The county has until November 1st to close the sale. And in a joint meeting between the commission and city council, the city indicated that it will assist the county in meeting the deadline. Counselors also indicated they would be supportive of a proposal to continue the use joint city county sales tax revenues to operate the camp.

We're taking our piece of it. It is a very, very complicated puzzle, and the county, out of frustration of trying to get a site, and the frustration of seeing the situation that has deteriorated at Purple Cliffs. We're done with that model of unmanaged, what I call wild west camping, and we're done with it. And we're going to move forward to do a managed camp.

To follow developments, visit the county's website at co.laplata.co.us, or the city's website at durangogov.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the local news network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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