DENVER – A bill to transform Fort Lyon, a federal-owned property, into a rehab for drug and alcohol addicted homeless individuals passed the House this week on a vote that split both Democrats and Republicans.
House Bill 1261, sponsored by Reps. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) and Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa), would spend an estimated $10.5 million over three years to offer drug and alcohol addiction treatment and job training for about 200 homeless individuals for a two-year rehab stint.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora). “It’s a jobs bill.”
After touring the facility in January, the Joint Budget Committee voted against funding the project because it would require millions of dollars to remove asbestos and upgrade the buildings to make them habitable. JBC members also voiced concerns about the viability of the project.
“The fiscal note does not adequately account for deferred maintenance on this property,” said JBC Chair Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder).
“My concern is that we’re trying to solve a problem of unemployment in (BentCounty) by creating a program for the homeless that isn’t necessarily the best way to deal with the chronically homeless,” said Levy. “It’s the tail wagging the dog.”
The measure was passed Monday in the House, 49 to 13, with bi-partisan support, and advanced to the Senate.
The project was initially proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to create jobs inFortLyon after the prison was officially closed last year. The 500-acre property is actually owned by the federal government, and was temporarily deeded to Colorado Department of Corrections until that property was closed as a prison. That arrangement ended in 2011 when it was closed.
Hickenlooper’s team, headed by Roxane White, intended to dedicate the facility to homeless veterans, but broadened the scope to all homeless individuals after the Veterans Administration decided against funding the two-year treatment program.
Levy said the program is not a solution for unemployment because like the prison, it creates jobs dependent on a single government employer. But, the facility could close in the future if it is deemed ineffective or is not taxpayer funded.
Crowder contended, “It’s the right solution to get people out of the (Denver) metro area so that they are away from the other temptations and their circle of friends.”
Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) said that the bill is a response to “the fact that most of our urban traditional communities don’t want the homeless population in their communities.”
“This is about our veterans,” asserted Singer.
“Why do you think the federal government doesn’t want (Fort Lyon) back?” asked Rep. Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen). “It’s a completely contaminated site. Why would we want to put veterans there?”