Denver, CO — A former prison in southeast Colorado that is unusable for many purposes should be turned into transitional housing for the chronically homeless, state-budget writers were told Thursday.
The governor’s office is asking for $840,000, as well as an additional $6 million, over the next two fiscal years to repurpose the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Las Animas. The prison was closed last year because of a decline in the prison population.
Officials have struggled for two years to find a new purpose for Fort Lyon. The former Veterans Affair hospital was a major employer in rural Bent County. Lawmakers were told the federal government wouldn’t take Fort Lyon back and that the property shouldn’t be abandoned.
“We have a facility that is going to be expensive even if we mothball it,” said Roxane White, chief of staff to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Fort Lyon was envisioned as a treatment facility for up to 200 homeless people. They would be able to receive job training and mental health and drug treatment. White said veterans would be given priority, which would be operated by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers were skeptical about whether the homeless would want to move there or not.
“I would not want to see us taking these people against their will,” Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou asked.
White said residency at Fort Lyon would be completely optional, and would not be a return to institutionalization of the poor and mentally ill.
“We would never force someone. We would never have anyone court-ordered to this facility. We would not go down that historical route,” White said.