"America as a nation cannot continue to ignore the veterans who have served this nation, whether they experience forms of disabilities, have substance abuse issues, or not."
Fort Lyon is located approximately ninety miles east of the city of Pueblo, Colorado off of Highway 50. During the 2011 legislative session the General Assembly approved the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) budget amendment to decommission Fort Lyon on March 1st of 2012. Along with reducing the budget, Senate Bill 11-214 was also sponsored and repealed the statutory provision for Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.
The DOC has endured for greater than 130 years and has a history of serving the people of the State of Colorado by enhancing and maintaining public safety. At this time there are more than 6,700 correctional professionals who supervise greater than 23,000 offenders in this state in secure prisons and in appropriate community placements. Every area of the DOC is American Correctional Association (ACA) accredited and the Colorado DOC is the 14th State correctional system to earn the ACA's Eagle Award.
The ACA sets the highest national standards and promotes the best correctional practices. The accreditation process offers the opportunity for the Department to proactively evaluate policies and operations against national standards, to remedy inefficiencies, as well as to continuously ensure the highest quality of correctional services and programs. The Colorado DOC is responsible for managing and operating 19 secure prison facilities as well as the Youthful Offender System (YOS). The facilities are designed to supervise offenders in five custody levels:
The YOS program; however, is operated on a separate basis from the adults prison system by the Division of Adult Parole, Community Corrections, and YOS. The DOC is also responsible for the safe and appropriate supervision of offenders in community placements. The APCC division oversees transitional offenders in community corrections programs and offenders who are on parole. The division's professionals are trained specifically to ensure the safety of the public through utilization of the best correctional and evidence-based practices to supervise and support offenders in their reintegration back into the community.
Fort Lyon and Legislation
Legislation to turn the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility into a statewide center for people who are homeless, to include veterans who are homeless, was presented to Governor John Hickenlooper. Gov. Hickenlooper's administration made the proposal a top priority. The Senate Appropriations Committee killed the original proposal - Senator Pat Steadman of Denver argued that appropriating $6 million in general fund dollars for the project violated the State Constitution's single-issue requirement.
Gov. Hickenlooper's office disagreed with Senator Pat Steadman, and soon after Senator Angela Giron helped lawmakers in the House tack the provision onto Senate Bill 210. The Bill changes how State Correctional Officer's pay is calculated and is a popular bill that was difficult for lawmakers to vote against. The strategy worked and the amended bill was passed by the Senate on a 21-14 vote.
The majority of the Republicans who opposed the proposal had issues with the strategy. Senator Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs, sits on the six-member Joint Budget Committee. He voted against the Fort Lyon plan. Mr. Lambert stated it, "lacked legislative integrity." I suppose that means, 'Never mind the homeless veterans.' The Colorado Senate signed a bill that included renovating the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility for use as a treatment center for long-term homelessness, to include veterans who are homeless.
America's Homeless Veterans
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that America's homeless veterans are mostly men, while around 4% are women. The vast majority of homeless veterans are single and come from poor and disadvantaged communities, while 45% experience a form of mental illness and half experience substance abuse issues. America's homeless veterans have served in WWII, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military's anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America.
47% of the homeless veterans in America served during the Vietnam Era, and more than 67% served this nation for at least three years. 33% were stationed in a war zone. Additional statistics about America's homeless veterans include the following:
Women who are homeless veterans are more likely than male homeless veterans to be married and experience serious psychiatric illness. They are less likely to be employed and to experience addiction disorders. Comparisons of homeless women veterans and other homeless women found no differences in rates of addictions or mental illness.
The Hope of Fort Lyon
The Fort Lyon facility might seem like an unusual place to consider as a location to provide assistance to people who experience chronic homelessness, to include homeless veterans. Yet the hope is that through provision of structured programs and services at a dedicated facility, people who experience homelessness will find the services they need to reintegrate back into society and live in their own homes in the community. The veterans of America who have served this nation certainly deserve the opportunity to live in a home and find their way back into the communities they have served and protected.
The re-purposing of Fort Lyon is an exceptional idea and highly worthwhile. People who experience chronic homelessness, to include veterans, must not have society simply attempting to ignore them as if they will just disappear or go away. Instead, Fort Lyon promises the hope that America will not attempt to simply brush human beings and veterans under the carpet and leave them on the streets.
America as a nation cannot continue to ignore the veterans who have served this nation, whether they experience forms of disabilities, have substance abuse issues, or not. The United States cannot continue to ignore the issue of homelessness, and Fort Lyon is a step in the right direction.
If you are a Veteran who has lost your home, receive the support you've earned to get back on your feet. Contact VA's National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) to speak to a trained VA responder.
Colorado Department of Corrections
We are an organization in transition. Our values and core mission remain steadfast. We engage offenders in opportunities to make positive behavioral changes.
Fort Lyon plan fulfills dream of slain corrections boss Tom Clements
"Tom Clements understood exactly what the spirit of this place was," Hickenlooper said. "He cared deeply about redemption and that people got a second chance. And if they're willing to work hard enough they can make something of their lives."
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