Hike funding

Durango City Council refuses to fund winter warming shelter – The Durango Herald

Community Compassion Outreach wanted $11,600 to help pay for sanctuary expenses

Durango City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny a request for $11,600 in funding to help support a temporary heated shelter for the homeless at the Durango Christian Church at 255 E. 11th St. (Jerry McBride /Durango Herald file)

A local homeless advocacy group’s request to the Durango City Council for $11,600 in financial support for a heated shelter established at the Durango Christian Church was denied last week.

The requested money would have been used for rent and utilities for the temporary heated shelterwhich was created to support the city’s homeless population during the winter and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays at the Durango Christian Church at 255 E. 11th St.

During a public engagement segment of the Tuesday city council meeting, council listened to residents’ concerns and objections to having a heated shelter open twice a week and only during the day.

Support, opposition to funding heated shelters

Some residents said funding the heated shelter at the church would be a violation of the US Constitution’s separation of church and state. Other speakers said the heated shelter’s proximity to neighborhood schools endangers children, invites burglaries into residences, and otherwise puts residents at risk.

Durango resident Lynn Schaller, who said she is an advocate for the rights of marginalized people, encouraged the city council to approve the use of joint city and county sales tax funds to help Community Compassion Outreach. She said the nonprofit has done a lot of good work for the homeless over the past few years.

“It was 12 degrees this morning,” she said. “I was cold in my ‘sleeping bag coat’ and I can only imagine what it’s like to sleep outside. They (the heated shelter) provide hot food, hot drinks and a community for people to gather.

She said a heated shelter is a humanitarian effort ‘so people don’t die’.

“I think you may remember that over the years several people have died as a result of exposure,” she said. “And so it gives them an opportunity to literally warm up and have a community.”

Durango resident Ollie Powers took the opposite position.

“I don’t think we need a heated shelter. I feel like we’ve been really good for the homeless here in town,” she said. “We have a soup kitchen. I don’t think a warming center anywhere in town is necessary.

She said she’s seen homeless people camping along Roosa Avenue for the past five to six years, with some staying there “for weeks.”

“We called the police department about some of them,” she said. “My daughter, who grew up here in Durango, came a few weeks ago and was running the river trail and she came back and said, ‘What’s going on in town? What’s with all these homeless people everywhere?

“It’s not a safe city anymore,” she said.

City Council discussion and vote

“I was waiting for someone to invite me to church,” said Jake Fixico in 2020, who joined the community Adventure Christian Church (also known as Durango Christian Church) in Durango while living homeless. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The city council voted 4 to 1 to deny funding for the heated shelter. Mayor Barbara Noseworthy was the only member of city council to vote against the denial of funding. She said she supports Community Compassion Outreach’s idea of ​​hosting a heated shelter at Durango Christian Church and supports financial aid for the cause.

City staff and city council members repeatedly pointed out that the city had no say in whether the Durango Christian Church hosted the heated shelter and that the city council’s vote was strictly tied. to the financing of the project.

Scott Shine, director of community development, said the warming center does not violate any land use codes or other city policies. And, because funding the hot shelter has nothing to do with funding explicitly religious activities, the question of the separation of church and state is moot.

City staffers said the heated shelter is actually no different from regular church activities such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Cub Scout meetings or any other community event.

Councilor Olivier Bosmans said the intention of the association and the church to help the homeless is a valid cause, but the location is not suitable.

He said the heated shelter’s capacity of 50 people a day is “a bit for a neighborhood” and he wants to see more research into what activities can and cannot be done in that neighborhood.

Councilwoman Jessika Buell said city council needs to “strike a balance” between fiscal responsibility to ratepayers and helping homeless residents survive Durango. She sees no problem in funding a nonprofit and said faith-based organizations would be more successful in supporting the homeless than others.

But, she agreed with Bosmans and other council members that the location of Durango Christian Church is not ideal for a heated shelter due to its proximity to schools, businesses and downtown. .

“I know it’s a balance and I know there’s never going to be an easy answer, and no matter where the warming huts go, we’re probably going to have people who can’t stand it, but I think that there are better places than that,” she said.

Councilman Melissa Youssef said she was concerned about the “unintended consequences” of supporting a heated shelter at Durango Christian Church.

Councilwoman Kim Baxter said she does not support a warming center in any neighborhood in Durango, especially near a school.

“I would support him if he wasn’t in this situation. For example, on an empty lot in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “…I support the concept. But I don’t support him in any neighborhood of our community. And so I would not support its funding.

Noseworthy, the only councilor to support funding for the warning shelter, said many residents support homelessness assistance, but she is not aware of any neighborhoods willing to accommodate the homeless community.

After hearing public safety concerns expressed by residents and fellow council members, Noseworthy said she shared a neighborhood with Durango Christian Church and the Heat Shelter.

“I walk this street every day,” she said. “…For two days, this organization (the church) allows people who often go unnoticed to be seen, to have a place to gather, to build community – and we have to start somewhere.”

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