Draft goals for tackling homelessness in La Plata County call for more housing, greater understanding of the issue and more services with a higher quality to assist homeless residents.
Durango City Councilor Melissa Youssef said the draft goals are a good start, but she is looking forward to the short-term, medium-range and long-term steps expected to be part of the new strategic plan on homelessness.
La Plata County government and the city of Durango have agreed to pay The Athena Group, an Olympia, Washington-based company, $70,000 to write a plan on how to address homelessness in Durango. The plan is in its early stages and is expected to be finished at the end of the year. It will include action steps and cost estimates for those steps.
Government officials commissioned the plan after facing public outcry for years about camping on public land that raised concerns about trash, fire danger and lack of restrooms. However, campers often have nowhere else to stay because the community does not have shelters that accept those who use drugs or alcohol.
The strategic plan was originally put out to bid last spring, but no contract was awarded because the 416 Fire took center stage.
Youssef said she expects the plan to address camping on public lands, even though that issue was not addressed in the six goals released last month as part of a survey for review.
“I would like to understand community sentiment around that issue,” Youssef said of camping.
The draft goals were released to help gather feedback from the community and determine if anything was missed, said Meagan Picard, principal with The Athena Group.
“This is a very foundational step,” she said of the draft goals.
Failure to address camping on public lands in the draft goals may have been an oversight, she said.
“I think it might be buried in the range of needs and hadn’t been dug into yet. ... Not to say that it won’t actually show up,” she said.
Some of the other goals released by the group include:
Making more housing available for people at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness. Increasing the quality and quantity of services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.Ensuring all community members are safe when visiting open spaces. A survey about the draft goals asks respondents whether they agree with the goals and gives respondents the opportunity to list additional goals.
The goals were released after the first meeting of the Durango-La Plata County Planning and Action Team on Homelessness that includes representatives from nonprofits, health care providers, concerned neighborhoods and housing nonprofits.
The group’s first goal tries to emphasize balancing priorities, and the fact that while compromise will likely be necessary to address homelessness, groups in the community will not have to sacrifice what is most important to them, Picard said.
For example, if more housing or camping options were provided for homeless residents, those services would need to be assessed for how they might affect safety in a neighborhood, she said.
However, as of Monday, Picard said the action team had not yet determined what solutions to pursue.
Advocating for a particular solution too early in a strategic planning process can get in the way of thinking broadly about the entire community’s needs and desires and balancing those, Picard said.
“I would urge folks to stay at a higher level,” she said.
Residents can take the survey about the draft goals before Thursday by visiting https://bit.ly/2KQRUcS.