Durango Herald Letters To The Editor
Durango Herald Letters To The Editor – Sgt. Chris Burke with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office is sending out a notice to vacate the Purple Cliffs homeless encampment on Friday to inform residents that they have 72 hours to collect their belongings and leave the property south of La Posta Road (County Road 213). Durango. The county is closing the camp after about three years. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Purple Cliffs residents were upset and distraught as a survey drone deployed by the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office flew over their heads Friday. With only 72 hours to clear out their belongings, one main question remained on many people’s minds:
Durango Herald Letters To The Editor
Purple Cliffs resident Eric Carney said most people living on the cliff’s edge had yet to answer that question Friday.
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He said the Purple Cliffs homeless camp was a “saving grace”. He moved from Montrose to Durango about a month ago because he was looking for a place where he could get up safely without being bothered by the police. Purple Cliffs used to be a place to get his bearings, but that’s changing.
He said the only people he knew in Durango lived in Purple Cliffs. And for people like him, uncertainty is the only way forward.
Thad, who did not want to give his last name, speaks with a La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputy at his campsite at the Purple Cliffs homeless camp Friday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Eric Carney isn’t sure where he’ll move after Purple Cliffs closes. Carney said Purple Cliffs residents have created a tight-knit community, and many of them are concerned that they have no direction on where to live in Durango and La Plata County. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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“Where will we go? What do they expect from us? There are people like me, I don’t know. I am confused. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s like, no matter what, (I) just can’t catch a break.”
Just before 9 a.m. Friday, several La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies gathered on La Posta Road (County Road 213) east of the Purple Cliffs homeless encampment. In another hour, they would go around the camp to stick notices on tents, shelters and fences warning residents to vacate within 72 hours.
In June, La Plata County set Friday as a self-imposed deadline to close Purple Cliffs. The announcement caught Durango city officials by surprise. The two governments held joint meetings to determine a new temporary or permanent location for the controlled camp, but no workable solution was found.
Rachel Gallegos, who has been living on the cliffs for about a month, said Purple Cliffs saved her and her boyfriend. He is originally from Pagosa Springs and moved to Durango about a year ago. Rent is “too expensive,” he said.
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“We had nowhere to go and they really helped us out,” Gallegos said. “If it (Purple Cliffs) closes, it will be bad. “All the homeless here will be on the streets of the city, and that’s not going to be good.”
As of September 16, Purple Cliffs was home to about 50 people. That was down from about 180 people who lived there during the peak summer season.
She said no one knew what to do, including herself and her boyfriend, and that people were “terrified” as winter approached.
Clarence Dotson with La Plata County Animal Control records a camper with a dog at the Purple Cliffs homeless shelter. The department wants to make sure no animals remain after the camp is cleared. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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Purple Cliffs resident Joe Brady walks along La Posta Road (Township Road 213) south of Durango on Friday. Brady said by closing the camp, the residents’ civil and constitutional rights were violated and they were given nowhere else to go. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Joe Brady, a Cliffs resident of 3½ years, said the rights of Purple Cliffs residents have been violated by the closure of the campground, the seizure of property if people do not vacate and the lack of alternative shelters. When people die from exposure this winter, he said, the responsibility will fall on local authorities.
“The winters are brutal here. People will die,” he said. “… There are people who die from exposure, and the blood will be on the hands of those who do it without a plan, without a proper plan. And that’s what it boils down to.”
Durango native Royce Cowan, who lives in Purple Cliffs himself after not being able to find affordable housing to accommodate his three dogs, said the city and county should at least tell residents where they can go.
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“People are being driven out of town,” he said. “I’m from Durango. Where should I go? I grew up here. This is my hometown.”
“There’s a push to move people who don’t have any money out of places they don’t want to stay,” he said.
He compared Durango to what Telluride has become — practically needing a credit check to walk down the street, he said.
“We’re not trying to be silly out there. We’re not trying to be transient,” he said. “We’re working. It’s just an expensive city to live in. This is unreal.”
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Kathleen Van Voorhis, director of community strategy for Project Moxie, was on site with other Project Moxie members and members of Axis Health System to provide medical assistance and inform residents about law enforcement activity throughout the morning.
He advised residents that law enforcement agencies cannot rummage through their belongings without permission. He sighed as he saw a survey drone buzzing above the camp.
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office posted notices to vacate occupied campers Friday at the Purple Cliffs homeless encampment. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Van Voorhis, who is nationally certified to provide trauma-informed care, said the closure would be better served by people in uniform.
Letters To The Editor
Most residents would probably say they’d be happy to move to another camp if they’re not accepted at Purple Cliffs — but they need a place to go, he said.
“We still have vets that are here and a brain injury population,” he said. “Either that, or people who serve their country and are easily triggered by the horrific wars they’ve witnessed in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
He would probably be better off not flying the drones during the procedure. Without necessarily a support network, veterans have made Purple Cliffs a peaceful home.
“If you trigger them, like anybody else — if you irritate someone enough to get to a trigger point — it’s human nature (to react),” he said.
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Skeet Morse said he wasn’t sure where he would move after being forced to evacuate Purple Cliffs. The closure of a homeless encampment south of Durango began Friday, and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office plans to collect unclaimed items Monday and Tuesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Annie Kurtz, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said La Plata County and the city of Durango are legally responsible for moving Purple Cliffs residents outside or in rudimentary shelters when they have no other place to sleep.
“The government is willfully indifferent to the real harm of simply evicting people, demolishing their homes, without giving them anywhere to move to safety,” he said. “Local government is responsible under both the state and federal constitutions for violating people’s civil rights and constitutional rights.”
Kurtz said local governments sometimes look for quick fixes to homelessness problems, such as closing Purple Cliffs without negotiation, and those solutions do more harm than good.
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Deputies with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office are posting evacuation notices at the Purple Cliffs homeless encampment Friday to remind residents they have 72 hours to collect their belongings and leave the property on La Posta Road (County Road 213) south of Durango. The county is closing the camp after about three years. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Such solutions become “the first policing approaches to criminalize homelessness.” In turn, racial inequalities are exacerbated and people are traumatized; they lose their belongings and identity cards and are disconnected from the services. The end result is often more homelessness, not less.
Kurtz said the ACLU’s position on the closure of Purple Cliffs and the city’s inaction is: “It’s wrong as a legal matter, it’s a terrible idea as a policy, and it’s absolutely cruel. Especially since we’re just entering winter.”
Purple Cliffs resident Joe Brady said many of the items, considered trash to some, are near and dear to the people living at the temporary homeless camp. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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For some homeless residents at Purple Cliffs, the homeless encampment offered something they didn’t find anywhere else: a tight-knit sense of community.
Carney said people at the camp like to be careful