09/05/2013 06:21 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2013

Fort Lyon Prison, Closed By Budget Cuts, Reopens To House Homeless


"When one door closes, another is opened," as the saying goes. But Colorado did one better, albeit not very intentionally.

Formerly known as the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, the 550-acre facility in Bent County, Colorado will now offer supportive housing, health services, substance abuse treatment, counseling and job training for the homeless. From there, it is hoped that participants will be able to transition to independent living -- while saving the state money.

“This project will give homeless veterans and others new opportunities,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “The men and women who go to Fort Lyon will learn the skills they need to get back on their feet. We are grateful for the General Assembly’s support of this effort and applaud the work done by Bent County officials to help us transition this beautiful and historic facility into a place of recovery for some of our state’s most vulnerable individuals.”

Originally, the 100-year-old Las Animas prison was a shabby veteran's hospital before it was turned into a correctional facility in 2001. Just 10 years later, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper shuttered the prison due to budget cuts. Almost 500 prisoners had to be moved out and almost 200 jobs were cut to save the state about $6 million a year.

A report by Pathways Home Colorado cites a study done by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless that found that individuals caught in the "revolving door" of homeless services cost taxpayers $43,239 per person per year. After those individuals are housed however, the study claims that those costs will be diminished to only $11,694.

Hickenlooper's chief of staff, Roxane White tweeted about the facility's Labor Day reopening:

Only 14 homeless individuals ended up showing up, but the facility is slated to house 200 by next July and could reach a maximum capacity of 300 by July 2015.



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