DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado lawmakers are considering a $4 million bill to help the homeless. It calls for turning the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility into a residential treatment center.

The prison closed last year and how Gov. John Hickenlooper is pushing for the bill to be passed.

When Leanne Wheeler left the Air Force she had an engineering degree, a job in aerospace and a promising future. Then the recession hit. After putting her life on the line for her country, Wheeler found herself on the street.

“And that was when I really could appreciate what happens when you’re homeless.” Wheeler said. “You can’t find your stuff, it starts affecting your psyche, I was moving into depression, quite frankly.”

It’s estimated that approximately 60 percent of the homeless are veterans. Hickenlooper says the community owes them more.

“For people that have served our country, I think the least we can do is give them a fair shot,” Hickenlooper said.

He asked lawmakers to approve a bill that would turn the historic Fort Lyon Correctional Facility into a residential treatment and job training center. Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, says it’s right idea, but the wrong location.

“Which has untold amounts of deferred maintenance, which is hours and hours and hours away from the Denver metro area where I think most of the homeless people will come from,” Levy said.

Hickenlooper counters by saying that getting them out of an urban setting is the best way to break the cycle of dependence, and save money. He says the state spends $43,000 per homeless person per year right now. At Fort Lyon he says that cost would be $17,000.

“We’re going to have dozens and dozens, hundreds and hundreds more vets back over in the next 18 months,” Hickenlooper said.

“It’s to my dismay that we can’t sort this out,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler now owns a company that connects veterans and employers. She says they need — and deserve — better.

“We have morale imperative to serve one percent of a population that goes out and puts their neck on the line day in, day out,” she said.

The Fort Lyon bill passed out of one of several committees it needs to go through in the Senate Wednesday afternoon. It’s already been approved by the House.


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