Where are homeless people with cars supposed to park? – The Durango Herald

Overnight car camping is illegal in most public areas and can get you towed

“Shorty” Paul in front of his motorhome Thursday at the Purple Cliffs homeless camp, south of Durango. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office warned him to move his pickup truck that was blocking a dumpster or have the vehicle towed. Homeless residents living in vehicles have few options for legal overnight parking. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Homelessness can be difficult this time of year in southwest Colorado.

According to the National Weather Service, there was a 100% chance of snow and rain on Thursday night, wind gusts of 35 mph possible on Friday and temperatures dropping to single digits on Friday night. A winter weather advisory is in effect until 10 a.m. Friday.

Life is a little easier for those who live in cars, but even that comes with challenges.

“Trying to find a place to park is difficult,” said “Shorty” Paul, who was in danger of being towed on Thursday but was rescued by another Purple Cliffs camper who helped start his van.

Homeless residents living in vehicles say they are struggling to find legal places to park and camp, with no real options in Durango or La Plata County.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chris Burke said he didn’t know of any legal places to camp by car, without being on private property or paying for a campground.

“It will be a challenge until the city and county can find a place for this to happen,” said Burke, alluding to the city and county’s longstanding attempt to identify a camp. permanently homeless.

Antonio Espinoza, left, drives Paul’s ‘Shorty’ RV on Thursday at Purple Cliffs homeless camp, south of Durango. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Over the past week, he said the sheriff’s office warned Purple Cliffs campers to move their vehicles from the shoulder of La Posta Road (County Road 213) to make way for snow plows.

“We have ‘no parking’ signs along County Road 213. When there is a danger, we owe it to the county to get the cars off the road,” he said. “The sheriff’s office has a duty and an obligation to keep these roads clear for snow removal. “

Burke said vehicles parked on the shoulder of the road can also pose a safety hazard to pedestrians, who may have to venture onto the street to avoid parked cars.

In the past six months, he said there had been nine vehicles towed from Purple Cliffs.

The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday asked “Shorty” Paul to move his campervan to Purple Cliffs homeless camp, south of Durango, as it was blocking the dumpster. Homeless residents living in vehicles have few options for legal overnight parking. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

When the Sheriff’s Office tows a vehicle belonging to a homeless camper, they take the vehicle to a Sheriff’s Office impound. The sheriff’s office does not charge the owner a storage fee, as it would when towing a vehicle to private land, Burke said. But the vehicle owner must have up-to-date insurance and registration to collect the vehicle.

If the vehicle is not usable, the owner must pay the tow truck fee to remove it from the sheriff’s office impound.

The sheriff’s office said it did not tow any vehicles that people were actively living in. Most of the vehicles towed from Purple Cliffs have broken down, Burke said.

He said some homeless residents of Purple Cliffs who own vehicles do not sleep in the vehicle; instead they use it for storage and transport, but sleep outside in the camp.

“Shorty” Paul, who lives in a van, divides his time between the Walmart parking lot and the Purple Cliffs homeless camp. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

A recurring problem at Purple Cliffs is when people park in front of the dumpster, preventing it from emptying.

“I warned a driver that he was parked right in front of the dumpster and they couldn’t service the dumpster,” Burke said. “The residents pushed him aside so the dumpster could be fixed. A week later that same vehicle was back in front of the dumpster, so we had to tow it. “

Antonio Espinoza, a resident of Purple Cliffs, said it was a daily struggle to find a safe place to park where he wouldn’t be towed. He said that for many people living in Purple Cliffs, their vehicle is their lifeline that gets them to work.

“The option I have left is to try and find the lowest areas (least likely to have snow) that I can to park, it may not be a permitted parking space, but that’s out of the way of the city’s need to clear snow, ”he said. .

Espinoza said he had a job but lived in Purple Cliffs because the rent in Durango was too high. He said his vehicle was towed last year from Purple Cliffs due to an expired registration.

“Fortunately, I have the financial security to take care of it, but barely. It’s not a very cheap neighborhood to live in and it’s not easier because of the weather, ”he said. “I wish there was another dig (parking zone) for people to park, but I can’t sit here and ask the city to pay for it.”

The city of Durango has an ordinance that prohibits car camping in the public domain.

“We’ve had issues with people who have broken down camping in public,” said Steve Barkley, Durango’s code enforcement manager. “We try to work with these people who break down in public spaces.”

Most of the time, the city will issue warnings to people found in an RV and ask them to move to a campground or RV park.

Barkley said the city does not tow a vehicle that someone is actively living in.

“It’s considered a house, just like a tent,” he said.

Barkley said car camping has also become common among tourists who come to town during the summer months.

“In the city, we tend to deal more with tourists who live in their cars, mainly during the summer months,” he said.

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