Homeless Park: the pros, the cons, and the plan

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Mia Boudreau, Reporter

Many Durango residents and locals are familiar with the mounting homeless population in our small mountain town. A homeless camp, established near the Tech Center, has recently been determined to be relocated due to safety concerns and other complications.

“In addition to the fire risk, the site lacks ready access for sanitation, trash removal, or emergency services,” said Durano City Councilor, Dick White.  “Moreover, homeless individuals have created an ongoing nuisance and safety risks for neighbors, especially on Ella Vita Court, who have documented many instances of crude and threatening behavior.”

Illegal camping is also another issue that Durango faces with the homeless population. The new location is hopeful to address this problem.

“The purpose of the Lightner Creek Shelter is to get campers out of the woods where living in tents is not legal, or consistent with longstanding public policy relative to preservation of open space for land stewardship and recreation,” said Durango Assistant City Manager, Kevin Hall. “The relocation also lessens impacts on the west side residents by reducing wildfire fire risk and provides more effective emergency service and law enforcement access.”

Social aspects of the homeless population also impact Durango residents. This will also hopefully be relieved with the new sheltering area.

“I think it will help move the population away from the residential areas near the soup kitchen that I know have had some issues,” said Jr. Ian Mattox.

As an alternative to the current location, the Durango City Council approved a new shelter near the local dog park.

“Together with the Board of County Commissioners, we have been grappling with this issue for many months. We have had many discussions, both with the BOCC and with the City Council and staff, evaluating pros and cons of various sites. We reluctantly returned to the Lightner Creek site in the last few weeks and decided that we must move forward with creating a legal alternative for homeless individuals to sleep overnight,” said White.

While the new location is a hopeful remedy for persistent problems that occur within the current location, concerns still arise surrounding visitors of the dog park.

“I know dogs at the dog park can react a lot differently and I feel like there are just going to be problems that are unforeseen whether those people have dogs, or not,” said So. Morgan Wells, an avid dog person. “Also, we’ve all seen the trash left behind, and I feel like we should not have to deal with that in our dog park, or have to worry about other dogs getting into that.”

The new location, however, will be seperate from the off leash area within the dog park.

“The outline of the plan is to set off the sleeping area at the west end of the off leash area adjacent to Lightner Creek. It would be fenced on at least two sides, to the east to separate it from the dog park and on the west facing the Holiday Inn parking lot,” said White.

In addition to fencing, the natural terrain of the park’s environment will set restrictions.

“The natural boundaries of Lightner Creek and the steep slope of Smelter Mountain may suffice on the north and south sides,” said White.

Many Durango residents have mixed views on the homeless population, but for some, this is a positive step forward in helping them.

“Our town needs to help fix this problem because it’s really heartbreaking to see people living on the streets and not being able to get a job just based on their appearance but also most of them put them selves in that situation, and some of us can’t help them fix their situation,” said So. Autumn Harwig.