Survey says more than 400 people are living homeless in La Plata County – The Durango Herald

A Durango-area nonprofit released a survey this week that indicates more than 400 people are living unhoused in La Plata County.
The La Plata County Unhoused Count and Survey was conducted by Neighbors in Need Alliance, a coalition of faith-based organizations and local homeless advocates. NINA partnered with Project Moxie to conduct the survey on homelessness in La Plata County.
The survey was done to give city and county officials a better understanding of the homeless population.
“There was a City Council study session … and the discussion kept saying, we don’t really know who is at Purple Cliffs, we don’t really have enough information to make decisions,” said NINA Chairwoman Caroline Kinser.
Project Moxie surveyed different areas in La Plata County, including Manna soup kitchen, Purple Cliffs, Fort Lewis College and areas near Bayfield and Ignacio.
The survey identified 103 people who were living homeless, as well as 158 tents and 39 vehicles that looked as if they were being lived in by homeless residents. Surveyors went under the assumption that half of the tents and half of the vehicles were occupied by more than one person. Of those, 96% of the tents identified were at Purple Cliffs, 39% of people contacted were living at Purple Cliffs and 17% of car campers were living at Purple Cliffs.
Based on data collected from unhoused community members and what’s been observed at Purple Cliffs, the survey says it identified 419 people living unhoused in La Plata County.
The Department of Housing and Development Point-In-Time Count indicated there were 91 homeless people in La Plata County in 2017.
“The impact of COVID continues to economically show itself with our unhoused, like a lot of individuals and families are living in their cars now,” said Kathleen Van Voorhis, director of community strategy with Project Moxie.
Discussions with unhoused community members revealed there were upward of 20 children living at Purple Cliffs. Two were pregnant and some were victims of abuse.
Among those surveyed at Purple Cliffs and Manna, 21.6% of respondents identified as Native American or Alaska Native.
“We have to start funding Indigenous-appropriate services, so that we can start to care for people in a culturally appropriate way,” Van Voorhis said. “A lot of that is ensuring that we’re offering services by Indigenous individuals, for Indigenous individuals.”
One out of five surveyed at Manna and Purple Cliffs reported living in a vehicle, while nearly 80% reported not having access to housing or shelter resources in the last 30 days. The report also said a little over 30% of those unhoused lived in La Plata County for less than a year. More than two-thirds of the unhoused have lived in the area for more than two years.
Of those surveyed at Purple Cliffs and Manna, 28% said job loss was the primary cause of homelessness, while 27% said cost of living was the primary cause of homelessness. Thirteen percent said disability and 10% said domestic abuse led them to homelessness.
In addition to food and shelter, bus passes were identified by more than half of the respondents as being a useful service. The survey said transportation was vital for securing employment and accessing medical services.
“If you don’t have transport, you can’t get to different services. You can’t get to work and many of our unhoused have jobs,” Van Voorhis said. “They can’t take kids to school. It’s difficult to get to varying services or services are not in one location.”
Lack of government identification has also caused issues for unhoused community members trying to gain employment. More than half of the respondents at Purple Cliffs and Manna are in need of documents, such as state identification or a Social Security card.
“There’s a multitude of reasons people don’t have them,” Van Voorhis said.
People who have recently been released from jail or a rehabilitation program may not have necessary documentation or to obtain work.
At FLC, 135 students were surveyed, of which 27% reported having experienced housing insecurity. The survey defined housing insecurity as “children and families who are homeless or who do not have a stable living situation. For example: a family residing in a low-cost hotel or automobile, or multiple families living in a single apartment.”
Of the students who had experienced housing insecurity, 54% said they had slept in a place not normally used for sleeping, such as a friend’s couch. Just more than 20% of students said they had stayed in a local hotel or a motel and 10% said they lived in their car.
“There’s been a conversation over the last year about housing insecurity for students because the rental market has gone up so much that they can’t afford to rent even if they dually rent,” Van Voorhis said.
Around 47% of students reported they were not receiving assistance services to help combat housing insecurity. Those who had assistance services received them through scholarships, family members or electronic benefit transfers.
When asked what services would help students, around 22% said financial aid to combat high housing costs and 14% said availability of student affordable housing.
“We did get a big response from Fort Lewis students that there’s a lot of individuals who choose not to rent to college students, just because they prefer not to rent to that population,” Van Voorhis said.
Surveying efforts in Ignacio and Bayfield were limited, but of those surveyed, 15% reported they had experienced housing insecurity. Van Voorhis said there are fewer unhoused people in Bayfield and Ignacio because there are fewer resources to draw from.
She also said job opportunities are greater in Durango, and people who are homeless tend to gravitate toward Durango for that reason.
In the survey, NINA and Project Moxie suggested immediate action be taken to help the unhoused community at Purple Cliffs.
“This approach should include triaging as many campers as possible to identify their needs and relocating as many campers to other programs, locations or even communities if they have support in other locales,” the document said.
The survey also suggests multiple new programs needed to assist the unhoused. Some of those needs include safe parking programs, managed camps or safe outdoor spaces and hoteling programs.
Van Voorhis said the closure of Purple Cliffs is a state of emergency for Durango’s homeless population.
“We have over 400 individuals who are homeless in La Plata County and most are in the city of Durango,” she said. “If you close Purple Cliffs, we have hundreds of people who are coming down who have no other place to go into the city.”
Another need the survey addresses is access to behavioral health services. Van Voorhis said more outreach is needed to help homeless people with trauma.
“The biggest struggle you’re going to face is once Purple Cliffs is closed, those caseworkers and outreach workers will not be able to find those individuals on a daily basis,” Van Voorhis said.
NINA and Project Moxie are hosting a webinar at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to present the report’s findings in greater detail, as well as answer questions from the community. Attendees must register in advance on the NINA website.
Durango Herald
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