Colorado Proves Housing The Homeless Is Cheaper Than Leaving Them On The Streets

In Colorado, a former prison that was recently converted to a homeless shelter is not only doing right by those on the streets, it’s doing right by taxpayers as well.

The Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in southeastern Colorado had housed prisoners until 2011, when it was closed because of budget cuts. In the two years since, it has laid dormant while lawmakers debated what to do with the building.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) office proposed a novel idea: turn the prison into a homeless shelter to help house needy people in the area. Bent County, which contains Fort Lyon, is one of the poorest areas in Colorado, with a poverty rate over more than 20 percent, 8 percentage points higher than the state.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers appropriated $3.9 million to re-open Fort Lyon as a homeless shelter, which will ultimately house 200 people, many of whom are veterans.


Though conservatives may balk at the price tag, Next City, an urban-focused media outlet, makes an excellent point: even setting aside factors like dignity and humane treatment, it’s actually cheaper for taxpayers to give homeless people housing at Fort Lyon than to leave them on the streets.

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. As Hickenlooper notes, though, this money doesn’t even include “any effort to recover them” and help them transition off the streets.

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.

The shelter opened this week and will be increasing capacity to 200 by July 2014 and 300 by July 2015.