Community Engagement

Community-Based Planning & Policy, Strategic Plan on Homelessness

City of Durango and La Plata County, Colorado

Strategic Plan on Homelessness

Homelessness has been a growing concern in Durango, CO, and it had reached a tenuous point by the time The Athena Group got involved. The number of people unhoused in the Durango area was growing, deaths/serious physical injuries were occurring because shelter wasn’t accessible for all, and other community impacts (trash, fire potential, etc.) were raising local concerns. People in the Durango area were divided about what to do, and the city had been put on notice by the ACLU that their recent camping ban was unconstitutional, given lack of adequate shelter options. The city and county determined that they needed clarity and agreement on what they would do to address homelessness.

The city and county engaged The Athena Group to help them facilitate a community-driven strategic planning process on homelessness. To do this, The Athena Group’s project partners (Meagan Picard, Jennifer Lopez, Christine Chopyak, Heather Martinez) designed and facilitated a process that ultimately enabled a diverse group of community members and leaders – the Planning and Action Team on Homelessness (PATH) – to find the best way forward for themselves, in light of all interests and perspectives in the community. They got to know each other better while learning together. They listened to the community’s and each other’s needs. They found common ground for setting goals and ultimately developed an actionable and mutually satisfying plan to address homelessness.

The team’s approach to this work also produced something that is arguably more important than the plan itself: a stronger, more collaborative community infrastructure. In fact, that result enabled them to work together to more effectively and efficiently respond to the new challenges that emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked what The Athena Group did especially well, Kevin Hall, Durango Assistant City Manager said:
“The Athena Group brought together disparate entities and individuals to develop the plan.”

We have been proudly selected to receive Best for Colorado Commit to Action Award in the Democracy Category for this work.  Read more about the award here.

Key activities during the planning process included:

  • Conducted initial interviews with key informants
  • Reviewed relevant local and national data, news articles, ACLU report and other background documents
  • Formed and facilitated monthly meetings with the Planning and Action Team on Homeless (PATH) – diverse group of community members (local gov, health/public health orgs, social/human service providers, faith community, business community, unhoused and housed neighbors)
  • Supported PATH members in progressively more complex engagements with the community, giving them tools and coaching to support the outreach efforts (starting with interviews of people in their own networks and culminating with a community strategy workshop
  • Facilitated world café-style listening sessions across divides and co-hosted open house event to seek common ground
  • Worked with individuals and small groups to develop strategies that they would own
  • Drafted detailed strategic plan
  • Presented plan to Board of County Commissioners and Durango City Council (and gave updates along the way)
  • Gave weekly written updates to the clients and met with them every other week to discuss progress and problem-solve any emerging challenges

Left the Community With:

  • An actionable plan, which is already being implemented with the guidance of an interim work group, which we recommended by memo with delivery of the final plan
  • Shared ownership over the plan and foundation laid for improved collaboration in future
  • Tools to support implementation and continue to collaborate , including:
  • Recommended make-up and functions of coordinating council
  • Group charter template
  • Performance measures
  • Performance review process recommended
  • Performance reporting template
  • Additional funding resources

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