How Colorado is Saving Money, Shutting Down Prisons, and Housing the Homeless in One Move


How do you make the best of a difficult situation? Turn a prison into a homeless shelter and everyone is happy. Because of necessary state budget cuts, Gov. John Hickenlooper decided to solve a complex issue by helping others. The formerly known Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Bent County, Colorado will be converted into a homeless shelter that offers housing, health services, substance abuse treatment, counseling and job training. The expectation is that homeless participants will build autonomy, and the shelter will help save the state money.

This decision rests easy with taxpayers and the homeless, given it's actually cheaper to house those who need shelter than have them roaming the streets. The shelter is expected to have 200 people this year and could potentially reach 300 by July 2015.

In 2007, the correctional facility had "numerous health hazards and financial problems" which were good reasons for the conversion during budget cuts season. Although about 200 jobs were cut, the state is nonetheless able to save $6 million a year, as Huffington Post reports. So how exactly is the state saving money on helping homeless people?

According to Think Progress, "The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless estimates that taxpayers spend $43,240 per homeless individual in Colorado each year on everything from emergency health care to legal issues. A 2012 estimate found there are nearly 17,000 homeless persons in the Centennial State. Housing 200 people at Fort Lyon, by contrast, will cost just $16,813 per person, less than half the cost of leaving them on the streets."

While budget cuts can lead to strikes and organized unions demanding justice, this arrangement has benefited taxpayers and the homeless. More so, it has provided preventive strategies in ending homelessness and supporting citizens through effective economic practices. This solution can perhaps influence and inform other states on best strategies to balance state budgets.