La Plata County is in no rush to determine how close to $ 11 million can be spent

Micah currently lives on the streets of Durango, where he moved from northern Minnesota three years ago. He said Durango could be the best or the worst, depending on a person’s mindset. He recently took a job as a dishwasher at Steamworks Brewing Co. and said a change in the way he thinks and attitudes has benefited his situation. (Christian Burney / Durango Herald)

When asked how La Plata County should spend nearly $ 11 million in COVID-19 relief funds, two common themes were raised by community members who focused on homelessness and mental health programs.

La Plata County has until 2024 to distribute the federal money made available through the American Rescue Plan Act. On Wednesday, the district administrators set out the guidelines for the money and heard from the public how the money should be spent.

A mix of county residents and community leaders attended the virtual meeting hosted on Zoom, which was recorded and made available online.

Several local residents were interested in using the money to help the homeless population of La Plata County. Community Compassion Outreach’s Donna Mae Baukat wanted to know how quickly funds would be allocated after district officials decided how to distribute it.

Community Compassion Outreach has initiated an application process for funding with the Department of Housing, Baukat said. She expects to know if the application will be accepted approximately 65 days after submitting it.

“So the question is, after the Commissioner has examined all the proposals, how soon, shall we say, our project – if we were to state on an input form that we want federal funding for affordable housing – how soon after your decision? will there be funding and how quickly can we know whether we are eligible or not? ”said Baukat.

About half of the total funding, $ 5.4 million, is already available, said county manager Chuck Stevens, but district officials are in no hurry to spend it and intend to take a methodical, measured approach to decide how the money is distributed.

“Every tip I’ve got from the board is that they want to be very thorough and considered,” said Stevens. “They want to get ideas from the community, they want to be very thoughtful. You don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision. It’s a really mushy answer for you, I get that. I would just say submit your project and recommendation. “

Homelessness was a key issue local residents wanted to address at a county virtual meeting on Wednesday to collect suggestions on how to spend nearly $ 11 million in federal COVID-19 aid. Manna, a soup kitchen on Avenida del Sol 1100, started with its own garden in 2004. The facility provides nutritious meals and support services to those in need, and distributes groceries from 9 am to 11 am daily. (Christian Burney / Durango Herald)

Stevens added that the commissioners and the county government will hold a working meeting towards the end of September to formally consider proposals from the public.

Harrison Wendt, a Durango resident and youth mental health advocate, also asked about the process of helping young homeless populations.

“I see it more and more worrying when our young people become homeless and live on the streets,” said Wendt. “College students who don’t have an apartment live in their cars.”

Wendt wondered how best to call for resources: should local organizations make separate requests, or would it be more effective if they banded together as a coalition to come up with one big proposal?

Stevens and District Spokesman Ted Holteen both responded that a coalition would be more effective and increase their chances of successfully distributing money where it would best serve the homeless populations of Durango and La Plata.

“Coalitions are always great,” said Holteen. “If you are like-minded people trying to express a similar problem when you can achieve this type of organization, it is certainly better to submit one form from one group than submit four forms from different people.”

Wendt also asked if mental health was an area of ​​support. He was concerned that mental health was a wide-ranging issue that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic and that it could be excluded from federal aid.

Stevens assured Wendt that mental health was eligible. He added that homelessness issues, which district officials hear about three to four times a week, are of interest to the committee.

“Mental health problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic, I think that is out of the question,” said Stevens. “I think we can conclusively prove that. So that would definitely be a qualified issue. How can we take this into account and ensure that we survive the audit? That would be for the county, but I’m confident this would be a qualified, eligible expense. “

Kristine Melrose, of rural La Plata County, raised concerns about drug use across the county, saying overdoses and a link to street drugs need to be addressed.

“I’ve been in this county all my life, several generations in this county,” said Melrose. “I’ve attended many, many funerals for people who overdosed in our county. I think this should definitely be addressed with the street drugs that are available to people. And especially for the homeless who come to our country, I feel that it’s not just about mental health, but also about the drugs that are available. I know that ultimately it is their decision to take and ingest or whatever they do, but it is still readily available and that should definitely be addressed, it shouldn’t just be an offense. “

Stevens said he believes the board wholeheartedly approves of Melrose.

The county has until 2026 to spend the money it received through the American bailout plan. Holteen said Wednesday that the board intends to allocate the money to generational projects that will have a far-reaching and lasting impact on as many of the county’s residents as possible.

The residents can submit comments, ideas and suggestions to the municipal council for consideration Online formprovided during the virtual meeting and available on the county website.

cburney@durangoherald.com