Police end homeless camp protest

Thursday, July 26, 2018 6:57 PM
On Tuesday night, police evicted eight homeless residents from a temporary overnight camp adjacent to Greenmount Cemetery. The evicted campers had protested city rules for use of the camp by leaving their tents up during the day. They had protested for five days before the eviction because they said city rules had caused problems.

Durango Police Department officers forced homeless residents who protested city rules for a temporary overnight camp near Greenmount Cemetery to leave the site Tuesday night.

Some residents of the camp had left their tents up during the day for five days in protest of the city’s requirements that they break camp each morning and leave the site from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents said the rules caused problems with theft and property damage.

Homeless resident Millie Sanders said about five police officers arrived about 8 p.m. and gave those people who had been cited for disobeying city rules 30 minutes to an hour to leave.

She spent Tuesday night walking the streets because she does not have anywhere to go, she said.

“I feel very broken,” she said.

She was one of eight people who were forced to leave, she said.

Police arrived shortly after Durango City councilors agreed in a public meeting that camp rules must be upheld.

Police Chief Kamran Afzal confirmed officers required those who were previously cited for trespassing on city property to leave.

“That’s what trespassing means, right, that you are banned from being somewhere,” he said.

Sanders said the police did not inform her before Tuesday night that she was not allowed to sleep overnight on the city’s site.

Former volunteer camp manager Jacob Jost said he asked officers where campers should go because they have a right to rest overnight if sufficient shelter in a permanent building is unavailable.

“I do know my rights,” he said.

Police told him he had 30 minutes to leave or be taken to jail, he said.

Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said the police action was in line with councilors’ direction to uphold camp rules.

“Nobody’s been asked to leave that has not been fully aware of their noncompliance,” he said.

City councilors do not want to allow people to stay all day on the property because they do not want the city to be responsible for relocating the residents when the camp closes. The city doesn’t have the resources, land or expertise to serve homeless residents long term, Brookie said.

The camp near Greenmount was set up as a temporary, emergency area for homeless residents after the 416 Fire when an evacuation shelter at Escalante Middle School closed. The Greenmount camp is scheduled to close Aug. 25.

While Brookie opposes establishing a camp for the homeless in the city, he supports a nonprofit establishing housing that would provide homeless residents with social services on city property.

The city has also asked the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for assistance with setting up a shelter that wouldn’t require residents to be sober, he said. Such a shelter would be run by a nonprofit, not the city, he said.

“I’m looking at the bigger, long-term picture,” he said.