Ft Lyon Bill Advances! Next Stop, House Appropriations Committee

HB13-1261 by Representative Dore and Garcia; Repurposing of Ft. Lyon (press releases from the House Democrats and the House Republicans included at the end)

The repurpose effort at Fort Lyon has wide support throughout the state. The local community supports the repurpose, the mental health and homeless community supports the repurpose, as does the Governor’s office. Representative Dore said this bill is about believing in economic development in rural Southern Colorado. This program will provide jobs, growth, and let homelessness in urban Colorado be addressed. This is just one piece of the entire solution for Ft. Lyon.

Reeves Brown, Executive Director, Department of Local Affairs

Mr. Brown read a statement from Roxane White, Chief of Staff for Governor John Hickenlooper, about her strong support of Ft. Lyon repurposing. This is a priority for the Governor and sees this as a huge opportunity. The project targets the most expensive homeless population. The most common concerns are location. However, the community of Las Animas has long been a caring and supportive community engaging in these issues. Ft. Lyon gives the opportunity to provide job training, shelter, and substance abuse support. Another concern is the homeless won’t go there and the Governors office thinks that is a non-issue. The project has three goals: reducing homelessness of veterans, address non veteran homeless population, and sustain an economic driver for the local community. This is an innovative idea and scary because of that. It will take leadership to embrace this and the broad collaboration that does exist. Representative Rankin asked about the cost effectiveness of the project.

Bill Long, Bent County Commissioner

Mr. Long is in support of the repurposing efforts at Ft. Lyon. Mr. Long said the closure of Ft. Lyon removed 30% of non-farm wages in Bent County. Reopening Ft. Lyon will increase jobs. The community used to serve veterans so its a natural fit. Many partnerships are being made to help the homeless who will be served at the facility. The community is extremely grateful for the repurpose effort. Representative Navarro asked about educational opportunities for these people being served. Mr. Long said they are prepared to initiate partnerships with the community colleges in the area to set up vocational training for the individuals being served at Ft. Lyon.  Representative Fields asked how many people are employed to make the grounds look nice. Mr. Long said 10 people. Representative Fields asked how many jobs this project will create. Mr. Long said the repurpose will create 50+ new jobs to start, and it will grow from there. Representative Fields asked how many people would be employed from the community. Most of the people will be employed from the local community with 4 or 5 from the Colorado Commission on the homeless.

 Larry Friedberg, State Architect

Mr. Friedberg said the buildings are in good shape. The program can take the buildings as is. There is little work that needs to be done immediately but there is a ten year controlled maintenance plan. Representative Fields asked how much it will cost to replace the boilers. The boilers will cost $1.8 million and they will last easily 30-40 years. Representative Ginal asked how they are going to take care of the Asbestos. Representative Dore said there is another witness to address the issue. Representative fields asked how soon the boilers will be replaced. Mr. Friedberg said it would happen over the next ten years as the program expands. Representative Fields asked if there were any other concerns about the building. Mr. Friedberg said there are a couple roof issues but mostly the buildings are in excellent shape. The program is also going to install energy efficient boilers which is really exciting. Representative Lebsock asked how quickly the buildings can be made operational. Representative Lebsock said the DOC had a program at the building almost six months ago so the buildings can be ready to go in no time probably 6-8 months.

 Eliza Park, Legislative Liaison, CDPHE

CDPHE is working on the abebstos abatement. CDPHE works with contractors and the local community to manage the abstestos at Ft. Lyon. In a lot of scenarios the absestos is being managed in place with stricter standards than the EPA. Representative Ginal asked how many buildings are affected by abstestos. The DOC has removed abstestos from one building and managed in another.

John Parvensky and Cary Carner, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

The coalition has been around for 27 years. It works across the state with a focus on homeless veterans and chronic homelessness. About 39% of the chronically homeless are veterans with addiction issues and co-occurring disorders. Colorado is one of the lowest ranking states for treatment centers for substance abuse and disorders. Ft. Lyon will be a transition residential program to start the road to recovery. Many times the homeless need to leave the community that keeps them addicted so a new setting can be a great support. This isn’t the solution to homelessness in Colorado but just one of the tools. The coalition is spending millions to provide housing and shelter in their local communities but this is a cost effective approach. Leaving homeless individuals on the street with addictions cost the community $43,000 annually. Treating these individuals will save $17,000 annually. Representative Ginal asked what the percentage of clients will be as veterans vs. non veterans. Within the homeless adult population we see 40% as homeless and we expect the same breakdown. Representative Rankin said his previous testimony convinced him to be a co-sponsor. Representative Rankin asked if some of the people receiving treatment could get transition employment through the facility. Mr. P said that is the plan because they think transitional employment is so important. Representative Fields asked what kind of unique services would be provided for veterans beyond mental health and addiction like PTSD. Mr. P said no homeless veteran is alike. The difference with most veterans is they are coming back with trauma they received from the environment while others receive trauma in their everyday lives. The approach we take is to meet the veterans and non veterans where they are and help move them to where they want to be. Incorporating veterans in the service delivery is important a well.

 

Mr. Carner was formerly homeless in three different states. He has been in recovery for a long time and he is very passionate about this. When he heard about Ft. Lyon he wondered where such an opportunity was when he needed it. Recovery isn’t an event it’s a process. It’s tough when you are trying to get services and you’re housed one place, with a doctor in another place, and mental health services at another location where no one communicates. At Ft. Lyon a program participant won’t have to go multiple places, they an be removed from their addiction, and everyone apart of the service team can speak to each other. Early recovery is fragile and it builds for later. Somewhere like Ft. Lyon will give people the ability to take time for themselves. Recovery is possible for anyone even though it make look different.

Jason Crow, Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs

The board strongly supports this project. The board doesn’t support everything that comes before them. The reality is the needs are greater than the request. There are 420,000 veterans and families who live in Colorado. The homelessness issue is the biggest challenge for veterans. There is no veteran administrator satisfied with the current state of affairs. There are hundreds of veterans on the street who are in danger of dying. Resources need to be focused on programs that have the biggest impact, are collaborative, and bring together public and private partnerships. Housing remains the biggest sticking point for veterans homelessness. Without a roof over their head veterans can’t access services that are available to them. This project will do the right thing for veterans. Representative Fields asked what prevention measures are in place. Part of the problem historically is that someone isn’t a veteran until they take the uniform off, and then there is also a gap in service access from 12-18 months. The gap is a federal policy issue. Collaboration is another part of the problem. The state, cities, and municipalities all have a part to play but can also cause barriers.

Buck Adams, Veterans to Farmers

Mr. Adams is a veteran who created a program to get veterans into farming. They would love to incorporate farming into Ft. Lyons repurposing. There are many business opportunities that can support efforts at Ft. Lyon. He understands the slow process of reintroduction and he believes that the rural setting is important to that. Representative Rankin asked if the process is privately funded. Yes it will be. Representative Dore said this is in addition to the plan. This will allow pieces like this to come in. Ft. Lyons is over 500 acres and with that first piece others can come into play.

Julia Erlbaum, REAL Food Colorado

This is a companion piece dependent on the first piece coming in. There are agricultural land on the grounds and other facilities to support growth. The greenhouse production would be based on products that could be utilized. However, to utilize this you need a processing component which Ft. Lyon has capacity to do. The veterans to farmers program is vocational and helps veterans build their own companies. Representative Lebsock asked about the Veterans to Farmers program. Mr. Adams says it helps veterans open up and decompress. They turn protectors into providers. One of the participants in his programs opened up a restaurant support agriculture business that supports high end restaurants like root down and linger. The US is falling behind in greenhouse technology and the US is importing more and more fruits and vegetables. This can prevent suicide, homelessness, and create businesses. Representative Rankin asked what the affect his program has on veterans. Mr. Adams said that seeing the change in veterans is so rewarding. Since starting the program he has had over 400 veterans reach out to him, thus far wo participants have become agriculture engineers, one constructs greenhouses, others work for veterans to farmers, etc.

Travis Berry, Colorado Competitive Council

The council is extremely excited about the proposal. There is so much economic development opportunity and its a very unique opportunity to address homelessness. Homelessness negatively affects businesses, the economy, and society.

Meghan Storrie, Colorado Municipal League

CML supports HB 1261 because homelessness is a huge issue for most member municipalities. This was unanimously approved by members to support. Cities don’t have the money in their budget to address and provide the services that Ft. Lyon can.

Richard Markovich, Department of Corrections

Mr. Markovich just wanted to echo the remarks of Larry Friedberg to say the Ft. Lyon facility is in good condition.

There were no amendments. Representative Dore was first introduced to Ft. Lyon during the election. He appreciates the support of Rep. Garcia. There are so many opportunities for this facility. So many things can happen but without this first piece it can’t happen. Representative Garcia said he is proud the bill is bipartisan with 40 house co-sponsors, there was no opposition and that’s rare as well. Representative Dore moved HB 1261 to the committee of appropriations. Representative Navarro thanked Commissioner Long for his commitment to his community. Representative Fields has changed her position on the bill as a result of all of the people she has heard from in support of this and the fabulous testimony. HB 1261 passed 10-3 with Representatives Wright, Gardner and Holbert voting no.

Fort Lyons Repurposing On Its Way

(March 28) – A bipartisan bill to repurpose Ft. Lyon campus in Las Animas to provide transitional housing, supportive services and vocational training for hundreds of homeless individuals passed the House Local Government Committee today by a vote of ten to three.

HB13-1261, sponsored by Reps. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) and Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth), will repurpose the Fort Lyon campus, which is formerly a minimum-security correctional facility, into a full-service treatment and rehabilitation center for 300 of Colorado’s most vulnerable homeless individuals to help end veteran homelessness, reduce chronic homelessness and sustain an economic driver for Southeastern Colorado.

“This is an innovative and pragmatic plan that will have a significant impact on reducing homelessness and ensure economic stability for a rural area of Colorado that has faced hardship since the closing of the correctional facility,” Rep. Garcia said. “This piece of legislation is representative of why I ran for office. We have worked in a bipartisan way, putting our minds together for common-sense, innovative solutions that will help cure social ills while creating jobs and boosting the Southern Colorado economy.”

Many stakeholders and organizations worked together on this policy and testified in support including the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Colorado Competitive Council, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., the Southeast Colorado Enterprise Development, Action 22 and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office.

About the Colorado General Assembly House Democrats

Colorado’s 65-member House of Representatives includes 37 Democrats dedicated to a strong state economy and a quality education for every Colorado child. For more information, visit cohousedems.com. For current and past House proceedings, go to Comcast Channel 165 or coloradochannel.net. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/COHouseDems, and on Twitter @COHouseDem.

Dore’s measure to help repurpose Fort Lyon passes committee

DENVER—Today, the House Local Government Committee passed a bipartisan measure to repurpose a portion of the Fort Lyon prison facility into a transition center for one of Colorado’s most vulnerable populations.

House Bill 1261, sponsored by state Reps. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth, and Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, converts the Fort Lyon property, a former VA hospital and subsequently a state correctional facility, into a transitional residential community for the homeless. The newly repurposed facility will provide substance abuse supportive services, mental health care, jobs training and skill development.

“When this facility closed many jobs were lost, dealing a severe blow to Bent County ,” said Dore, who represents the community surrounding the Fort Lyon property. “Now we’re giving this facility, this community and the homeless Coloradans it will serve a second chance, and saying to rural Colorado we believe in them.”

While in operation, the Fort Lyon prison paid roughly $11 million in annual payroll, which represented about 25% of all the wages in Bent County.

On September 12, 2002, Colorado received the Fort Lyon property from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The property, which was previously operated as a medical facility, became a correctional facility for geriatric and ill inmates. But in March 2012 the correctional facility was shut down, significantly impacting the local community. Currently, there are over one hundred abandoned buildings on the property which spans across more than five hundred acres.

“This bill will create jobs and opens new opportunity for one of Colorado’s most vulnerable populations, many of whom are veterans,” added Rep. Clarice Navarro, a Republican from Pueblo who grew up in Las Animas and was a former educator for the Department of Corrections.

Navarro is one of 40 co-sponsors of Dore and Garcia’s measure. She added:

“We’re restoring livelihoods and restoring hope for many individuals.”

Dore’s bipartisan measure passed on a 10-3 vote and now moves to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

 

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