September 30, 2022
Crowds gather outside city hall after a break from the over 3-hour special meeting the city held on Thursday, September 30. (Photo by Sarah Flower)

No Clear Path Forward As Purple Cliffs Closes

By Sarah Flower

A temporary camp for the unhoused is closing this weekend and there is no plan for where these individuals will go. On Thursday morning, the City of Durango held a last minute special meeting to discuss alternate options–including using the La Plata County Fairgrounds as a location for a temporary managed camp. The proposal drew strong public criticism, even before the meeting began. And a tacit rebuke from the La Plata County officials, who issued an announcement that there were no plans for any temporary or permanent managed camp at the fairgrounds.

But within hours, the proposal to use the fairgrounds was drawing criticism on social media channels, and La Plata County Officials issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“There have been many rumors circulating in the community today regarding the La Plata County Fairgrounds. In short, there are no plans for any temporary or permanent accommodation for the unhoused community at the fairgrounds,” a statement on the County’s Facebook page read.

By Thursday morning in council chambers, people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and spilling out into the hallway.

Durango City Manager Jose Madrigal appeared to be surprised by the County’s response at Thursday's meeting. Madrigal said that this idea of warming tents at the fairgrounds came from a working group that had included both municipalities, multiple agencies familiar with unhoused populations and other stakeholders in the area.

“It was not something that the city came up with on our own that we decided to place on an agenda,” Madrigal said at the meeting. “It was never intended to be moving Purple Cliffs to the county fairgrounds parking lot. It was very directly located in regards to warming tents and a possible safe parking and only to get the council's initial feedback if that was something that they would like staff to work on.”

Madrigal acknowledged that, given the County’s position, the city would no longer consider the fairgrounds as a possible location for a camp. So instead, the special meeting became a venue for the public to express sentiment about the issue of homelessness in and around Durango. Erik Everett felt that creating a safe space for the unhoused would create more people experiencing homelessness in the area.

“Some of this strikes me as build it and they will come,” Everett said. “Make it appealing and comfortable and they will come support them and they will come.”

Before the city council went into executive session, councilors unanimously agreed to move forward on a temporary camp. However, many councilors stated that they didn’t want it near schools, businesses or residential areas. What will happen to the residents of Purple Cliffs remains unclear.

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