Complex Homeless Issue Weighs Heavily on Durango Residents
Dear Durango Community-
What are the biggest issues challenging Durango?
All five candidates running for Durango City Council have repeatedly been asked this question in recent weeks. Our answers are appearing in writing in The Durango Herald and The Durango Telegraph, and have been verbalized at a variety of pre-election forums.
I initially campaigned on the themes of ‘growing our way’, ‘strengthening our infrastructure’ and ‘transparent fiscal oversight’.
However, after listening to the concerns and opinions of thousands of Durango residents in the past few months – via my blog discussions, while going from neighborhood to neighborhood and knocking on doors, and at a variety of forums and guided discussions, I have adjusted my focus.
Yes, we desperately need a 10 year Comprehensive Plan that addresses:
+ Maintaining Durango’s unique characteristics while managing growth creatively and wisely
+ Fostering a healthy, diverse, and competitive economy with good paying jobs, safe and affordable housing, well managed traffic systems for cars, bikes, pedestrians, and public transportation
+ Strengthening infrastructure = roads, police station facilities, water and sewage treatment, ETC…
+ Transparent fiscal oversight through transparent and trustworthy leadership
…the list goes on …
We must holistically consider the list and realistically calculate the costs to adequately address each item. Following that, we need input from residents in order to prioritize that list. After prioritizing, we, as a community, must consider a variety of funding mechanisms.
YES, there are many important issues competing for our attention, time, and money.
But there is ONE particular issue right now that has been uppermost in the minds of the majority of citizens of Durango that I have spoken with during my campaign. From the beginning, my campaign motto has been “Your Vision, Your Values, Your Voice”. My consistent commitment has been to LISTEN to the citizens of Durango, to VIEW Durango through their eyes, to understand their VALUES, and to be their VOICE.
After connecting with so many residents, I have concluded that the single most pressing issue for the majority of Durango residents – and therefore for me – an issue that is going to have a massive impact on this community, both now and in the long term – is the homeless situation in Durango.
It is a complex issue. Possible responses are governed not just by local statutes, but by federal law. We, as a community, must deal with it, but we must frame our response not only within the boundaries of what is just and achievable on a local level, but what is legally acceptable according to Federal Law. You may remember a blog I wrote last Spring, explaining that until 2014, panhandling was illegal within Durango city limits. With precedence set by a First Amendment Supreme Court case, the ACLU won the case, making it a violation of First Amendment rights to outlaw panhandling. In the two years since the law was changed, downtown panhandlers have become a large and daily downtown presence.
There is, of course, much to consider – business owners whose economic survival is threatened when the proximity of high pressure panhandlers prompts customer to shop elsewhere… residents who no longer feel safe on our river trail and in our parks… homeowners who must confront homeless campers in their backyards,…and, of course, how to best show true, make-a-difference concern and compassion for the homeless.
Homelessness in Durango is a major issue in and of itself – but it is by no means a ‘stand-alone’ issue. If not effectively addressed, it will exacerbate most, if not all, of the challenges already facing Durango, threatening or causing further strains on infrastructure, the unique character of Durango, the local economy, Durango’s job market, city budget, etc…
We must proactively address the situation. We need to support local non-profits who are collectively spending significant time, energy and resources. We must research the successes other communities have experienced, where such successes occur. We must support enforcement of local laws designed to protect business and personal property, and we must brainstorm appropriate social services to help homeless people move toward healthy independence. We need to make this a priority immediately.
THANK YOU for bearing with this City Council race as we, the candidates, bombard you with mailings, dominate the print media, pass out yard signs, and unexpectedly knock on your doors. There are five candidates who care about Durango and want to represent you on City Council.
It is an important time in our community. Thank you for your participation in this process – thank you for your encouragement, thank you for your confidence in me, thank you for allowing me into your lives and sharing your values and your vision with me.
My promise is what it has been from the beginning: YOUR vision, YOUR values, YOUR voice.
Blogger, ‘Your Front Row Seat’ AND Durango City Council Candidate
Focusing on Issues and Initiatives Significant to All who Call Durango Home
P.S. – Please DO remember that you’re invited to add your comments beneath any of my blog posts on my website http://www.melissayoussef.com/. You can also hit reply to this e-mail or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please don’t hesitate to let me know what you’d like to see more of and thank you so much for being an important part of my community here on “Your Front Row Seat.”