Durango City Council is pushing forward on a long-awaited initiative meant to help people with unstable housing or low incomes: a centralized resource navigation center.
City Council voted unanimously Tuesday in support of spending $80,000 to help Manna, a Durango soup kitchen, create the center. But the process doesn’t stop there. La Plata County commissioners must discuss the proposal, a one-year contract needs to be finalized and Manna needs to put the plan into action.
“We’re really excited for next steps,” said Ann Morse, executive director of Manna. “We’re kind of waiting to see what happens, and then that will help direct us in our next steps.”
For years, the city and county have struggled to address homelessness. A Durango camping ban prompted a reprimand from the American Civil Liberties Union. Designated, permanent campsite locations have received mixed or little support from the community. And elected leaders have wrestled over how to pay for and manage homelessness issues.
The city/county Strategic Plan on Homelessness, adopted about this time last year, combined the knowledge of multiple community organizations to offer a path forward.
The navigation center was a top priority, one that should be created within a year of the plan’s approval.
It would be a one-stop center where people could access multiple, co-located support services; meet with case managers; find employment resources; and get help applying for public benefits. The center would gather data about how people are using various services.
In November, community organizations put out the call for navigation center proposals. The group received one, from Manna, and unanimously supported it.
Manna proposed housing the center inside its building, managing it using current staff members, conducting data collection and connecting with partnering organizations.
“It takes a village,” Morse said. “It takes all the partnering organizations working together to help an individual or family take those next steps.”
But the nonprofit isn’t moving away from its mission to address food insecurity: It plans to create a community kitchen with a takeout window for meal distribution and food market, which offers people “the dignity of choice,” Morse said.
For 35 years, Manna has informally provided resources to its clients beyond food assistance.
“Manna is in the perfect position to offer these additional services because of its experience with the unhoused as well as its strong support by the community overall,” said Tom Sluis, city spokesman. “This is a great example of the city, county and all stakeholders working together to implement the 2020 strategic plan on homelessness.”
In 2021, Manna’s proposal would cost $295,000, most of which would come from grants and community contributions. The nonprofit requested $80,000 in 2021 from the city/county joint sales tax to supplement the effort.
If approved by the county, the money would be pulled from $100,000 in funding that is already dedicated to addressing unspecified homelessness issues in 2021. Manna would plan to open the center in August.
If the one-year proposal is not approved, Manna plans to create a resource center, expand the community kitchen and collect actionable data anyway, Morse said.
But the nonprofit would not accomplish some of the elements in the strategic plan, such as setting up a coordinating council or hiring an employment/housing navigator position.
“We wouldn’t be able to offer as many supportive services as we would like in the first year without that additional funding,” Morse said.
Either way, Morse said community volunteers should be on the lookout for more opportunities to be involved.
“That’s such an important part,” she said. “We want them to know they will be a part of this.”