This is a long, but worthwhile, read about a new way to approach solving homelessness in Colorado, with an added benefit for homeless addicts seeking sobriety. It’s amazing what treating humans like humans can do for recovery and finding a path back to life. Will it solve every problem for every person? No, some people have additional layers of mental health issues or physical illnesses that outreach can’t touch, but we must continue to try. The percentage helped will always outweigh those who are lost. From the article (emphasis mine):
Normally, Richard would be up there too, on auxiliary percussion, but he took the night off to tell me the story of how he came to Fort Lyon and got clean. Richard is 54 years old and had been sober for seven months, one of his longer stretches — discounting the six-year stint he did in prison. “But that was forced sobriety,” he said. He was making a choice now.
The 2013 decision to reopen Fort Lyon as a rehabilitation center for the drug-addicted homeless was contentious. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper — who had previously championed homeless initiatives while serving as mayor of Denver — asked the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to draw up a program that could operate on the grounds of the closed prison, which, while empty, was costing the state an estimated $150,000 per month in upkeep. The resulting plan eventually became part of House Bill 1261, which died in the Colorado Senate before being reborn as an 11th-hour tack-on to a Department of Corrections bill — a bit of legislative legerdemain that enraged both Democrats and Republicans. Yet in just over three years of operation, Fort Lyon has had enough success to quiet many of its critics. More than 800 of Colorado’s hardcore homeless have been served there, via housing, substance-abuse support, and education — mostly men (80 percent) and mostly over the age of 45 (70 percent). The program boasts a dropout rate of 38 percent — significantly lower than the national average for rehab programs — and nearly 200 people have graduated into housing around Colorado (mostly via Section 8 vouchers and other subsidized housing assistance, although the program estimates that 15 percent of graduates each year leave with secure employment and are able to pay their own rent). I spoke with a number of residents who had been both actively using and homeless for decades — and who were now two years sober, employed by Bent County, and taking college classes at Fort Lyon. In October of 2015, the El Pomar Foundation , which supports social endeavors across the state, awarded the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless its annual Award for Excellence for its work at Fort Lyon, and major private donors like the Walton Family Foundation have supported the program with sizable gifts. Now administrators in Illinois, Georgia, and Nebraska have started exploring whether Fort Lyon’s model is replicable in their states.
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image credit: photo by Benjamin Rasmussen