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‘Compassion Center’ grows, meeting needs of Durango’s houseless

Community Compassion Outreach among several nonprofits trying to fill gaps in the care continuum
Donna Mae Baukat, founder and president of Community Compassion Outreach, talks to Brian Montoya and his dog Soda Pop, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at CCO’s Compassion Center west of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

For years, the question of how, and more importantly where, to serve Durango’s houseless residents has been tossed around between nonprofits, local governments and residents.

And for years, Community Compassion Outreach has been one of several key organizations scraping together resources to try and help people in need of some support.

The organization has been doing an escalated version of the “Durango Tango,” serving those who have stumbled while doing that tricky dance itself to make things work in Durango.

Once again, it seems CCO has found itself stepping in rhythmic time.

CCO faced objections when its founder and president, Donna Mae Baukat, proposed opening a warming shelter two days per week in November 2022 along 11th Street in downtown Durango.

The new Community Compassion Outreach Compassion Center is located on U.S. Highway 160 just west of downtown Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

But Baukat has only pushed the organization further toward its goals; in December, CCO opened what it has come to call the “Compassion Center,” on U.S. Highway 160 just west of downtown Durango. Three months have passed since CCO moved into the new space, a former pet day care facility, and has quickly begun to expand its services.

Unlike the church that once hosted the warming center, the Compassion Center is expansive and controlled solely by CCO. The warming center was open two days each week. The Compassion Center, in contrast, is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Volunteers also serve lunch there on Saturdays.

A large common area with couches, chairs and tables abuts a quasi-serving center of tables bearing basic snacks. A large closet room contains bins of donated clothing. In the back, a private conference room leads to an open pantry and office space where Baukat is having a kitchen space installed.

The storage room behind the office is soon to be converted into a space with lockers of sorts, where clients can store belongings rather than move around constantly with them.

“We’re in the city, but it’s not downtown,” Baukat said.

That’s why the location works – it’s near enough to services such as Manna soup kitchen and public transit, but sits in a more industrial part of the city where there are few neighbors to complain. A hidden back area opens up into Lightner Creek. Baukat hopes to have barbecue and a garden there over the summer.

CCO has grand ambitions for the Compassion Center, she confirmed with a knowing smile.

The organization received a $144,000 grant from the CommonSpirit Health Equity & Advancement Fund last year to pay for meals and supplies. Baukat is still actively fundraising to cover the cost of remodeling the space.

A private conference room leads to an open pantry and office space where Baukat is having a kitchen space installed. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

It’s a scrappy crew that keeps the Compassion Center running. Just Baukat, two full-time staff members and a handful of volunteers work there.

CCO offers a broad array of seemingly undefined services all based out of the Compassion Center. Volunteers help clients get around the city, including to and from important appointments; they try to make sure people show up to court dates; and they connect clients with other services, such Manna and Housing Solutions for the Southwest. Baukat also fills gas tanks, takes pets to the veterinarian and reloads cellphone plans in an ad hoc manner.

Remodeling is underway at the Compassion Center. CCO is building a space where clients will be able to store their personal items. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Attendance has been a little lower at the new location, Baukat said, and CCO is trying to figure out why. As a winter storm moved through the region Wednesday, only about 15 people showed up to the space. The warming center would often see upward of 30 to 40 people per day.

But word is spreading in the houseless community, said Brian Montoya.

“You have to! We just all work together. It’s like a family out there,” Montoya said of connecting others with CCO.

He and his puppy, Soda Pop, lingered at the Compassion Center Wednesday afternoon.

“To talk things over – why you’re stressing out – it helps,” he said.


The new Community Compassion Outreach Compassion Center is much larger than the space at the church on 11th Street, and is used only by CCO. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
“To talk things over – why you’re stressing out – it helps,” said Brian Montoya, here with his dog Soda Pop at the new Community Compassion Outreach Compassion Center in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

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