09/09/18: Defend Durango’s Homeless

ACTION:   Communicate with Durango City Council about safety concerns of the homeless community due to: 1) potential health risks associated with the dog park at the former uranium mill, and 2) ceasing the requirement for the homeless to set up and break down their tents every day.
WHAT:  Call, email, or write Mayor and/or Council Member
WHEN:  Within a week of receiving this notice

Sweetie Marbury (Durango Mayor)
Melissa Youssef (Mayor Pro Tem)
Dean Brookie (Councilor)
Dick White (Councilor)
Chris Bettin (Councilor)

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT – For several months City Council has worked on dealing with the influx of homeless people in Durango. Recently, an Ordinance was unanimously passed giving law enforcement authority to fine and/or jail persons sitting or lying on sidewalks and curbs in most of downtown to appease business owners who complained about vagrants malingering in front of their businesses. Council called it a safety concern because sidewalks were obstructed. Yet, many testified it was dangerous to go to work and they feared the presence of “ these people” would discourage people from coming downtown and shopping.  Later, Council deliberated on where to locate space for the homeless camp. The homeless were temporarily housed to Escalante school with other evacuees during the 416 fire, but it closed. Council intended to move them to the dog park below the former uranium mill. The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) requested the city to conduct a health assessment at the site due to concerns about possible radioactive contaminants. The Council is considering testing the site for radon, delaying the move of the homeless shelter to the dog park. However, radon is not the only health risk concern; for example, thorium was an expressly identified radioactive contaminant when the property was accepted by the City. Due to consideration of testing at the site, the homeless were transferred to a temporary site near the cemetery. Only those who were evacuated to the Red Cross shelter, where they received a “ready tag” and were vetted for compliance to the rules set by the city, are allowed access. All residents are required to set up tents at 6:00 p.m. and break them down by 9:00 a.m.every day. This poses concerns for the homeless because 1) they have no place to stay during the day, 2) those who work at night have no place to rest during the day, and 3) they are exposed to air pollution and weather conditions with no shelter during the day, with monsoon season approaching.

We agree with Council that this is a multifactorial problem that should be addressed by the full community including non-profits and faith communities. Nevertheless, exposing this vulnerable population to dangers now, without such an organized outreach, lacks compassion.


  1. Setting up a homeless shelter for human habitation at the dog park is not safe until a risk assessment is completed. This assessment should be conducted to assess the presence of  radioactive materials as recommended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, especially thorium which may be inhaled when the ground is disturbed.
  2. Stop requiring the homeless to set up and break down their tents daily; the schedule is not a one-size-fits-all for those who work at night, or need shelter during the day due to air hazards during the fire and other weather conditions. And stop requiring a “ready tag”  that would prevent some from entering the shelter.