A new system to help the homeless

An old military base in Colorado has been converted into a community that helps people get back to offering a home and lots of freedom

The latest issue of the magazine Pacific Standard He devoted much space to the life of the homeless – who in 2015, in the United States, were more than 560mila – and the various programs with which the individual American States are trying to help them: most of them have problems of alcoholism or drug addiction and two out of three sleep often in shelters, that 1980s yesterday went from 100,000 to more than 830mila beds. In particular an article by journalist Will McGrath tells how a new type of experimental set that helps homeless people to detoxify and to rebuild their lives stable and safe: the residential community of support Fort Lyon, near Las Animas, in Colorado. Is a kind of city in part where each guest receives a private accommodation, access to common areas for productive activities and recreational activities, and crisis counseling. The particularity of Fort Lyon, compared to other similar rehabilitation centers, is that it is not binding upon the grant of a property in certain results that homeless people need to reach, but distributes it beforehand leaving plenty of autonomy, including the ability to leave at any time. In addition the stay can last up to three years, detox and rehabilitation programs when normally range from one to three months. Before becoming a facility for the homeless, from the nineteenth century to today Fort Lyon hosted a military base (There was the garrison of soldiers responsible for fiume Sand Creek massacre), a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, a neuropsychiatric hospital for veterans and, until 2001, a minimum security prison. In 2013 Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper transforms him into a rehabilitation center for homeless addicts; at the time, maintain the structure of the former prison was costing the State 150 thousand dollars (more than 140 thousand euros) per month. Initially many were opposed to the idea, but in the early years of operation the Center had very good results: it housed more than 800 Colorado homeless with a percentage of abandonment of 38 percent, much lower than the average of rehabilitation programs in the United States. Most people who lived or lives in Fort Lyon are men (80 percent) and have more than 45 years (70 percent). About 200 people passed by the Center have been established in lodgings scattered in Colorado: most State and masses about residences 15 percent in houses for rent after finding a stable employment. The success of Fort Lyon pushed administrations of other American States – Illinois, Georgia and Nebraska – to assess whether replicating the model. Over the past ten years the prevailing pattern in the rehabilitation of the homeless is the so-called Housing First (that is before the House): provides for the granting of permanent housing in the belief that the first obstacle to reintegration into society is the lack of a home. In Italy, Unlike the United States, the Housing First model is new. Exists on an experimental basis from 2014, When the Italian Federation of organizations for the homeless He founded a network with organizations of various municipalities that set up such projects. Over the next two years thegoal is involved in these projects about 5.000 people, from current 500. In Italy, According to the latest Istat estimates that go back to the end of 2014, There are more than 50,000 people who use the services of lunchroom or night reception in 158 the largest Italian municipalities. According to some experts, however, the Housing First strategy doesn't always work but only with who has no dependencies or is already engaged in a process of detoxification. Many supporters of the Housing First don't see kindly to a place like Fort Lyon, considering retrograde and counter-productive since it has people in a place isolated from the rest of society in the long period of three years, at the risk of further marginalizzarle instead of helping them to reintegrate. Fort Lyon wants to present itself as a model for situations where the Housing First may not work. The Director and cofounder of the Center James Ginsburg explained to McGrath that was constructed so that "they were people's needs to drive the structure of the program instead of forcing them to adapt to an existing model». Also the biggest difficulty for those who work at Fort Lyon's gain the trust of the people who come to ask for help, also because usually in rehabilitation programs are told what to do, instead of asking what they need. In the first three days visitors that come to Fort Lyon must attend lectures on drug and alcohol use and work with an advisor to plan their rehabilitation. Past the first month, the only obligation remains community meetings that take place three mornings per week. For the rest of the time there is total autonomy: You can do sports, walk in the Park to Fort Lyon, sleep for 20 hours at a time, undergraduate courses offered by Otero Junior College and still other activities. There are some who attends Alcoholics Anonymous groups, those who find other ways to deal with detoxification, also creating new groups: at Fort Lyon everyone is left free to seek the most suitable for itself while receives the support of the staff and other residents. In the centre there are 14 several aid groups, they meet regularly: they all were founded and organized by the residents and not by the staff of the Centre. In addition to the self-organized support groups, many people who live in Fort Lyon occupy the time in creative activities and craft. A man makes the hair to his quarters, another builds bicycles using recycled material, yet another has started to build furniture as it was before becoming alcoholic, one achieves kaleidoscopes. When the leaders of the community have noticed that residents they bartered among themselves the objects of crafts that produced, they opened a shop in Las Animas to sell outside of Fort Lyon. In the tourist season 2015 the shop, baptized Market on 6th, has created about 4.000 dollars from the sale of products from the community: a small percentage of revenues was used to cover the costs, but most went to those who had made products. Over time the shop has become a landmark for local residents, who bring their furniture to be restored or objects created by them, While the idea of hosting in retro a.a. meetings and other events open to all. The sense of Market on 6th is not just to get some people to Fort Lyon, but offer a chance to feel useful and less isolated from the rest of society. Despite his success, Fort Lyon's future is uncertain, says McGrath, because the budget of the Centre depends on public funding and then by the opinions of elected politicians: in 2015 for example, the funds were cut and 17 people have been laid off. However Fort Lyon is not an expensive Center. In a study of 2002 Dennis Culhane, a social science researcher expert of the costs that the company faces for the homeless, He calculated that each homeless people with severe mental disorders cost $40,000 to New York City (38thousand euro) per year. According To Philip Mangano, Director of American Government Agency for homeless people during the Bush Presidency, for the American company the average cost of a homeless man goes from 35 thousand to 150 thousand dollars (by 33 thousand euros to buy buy buy!) the year. Finally in Colorado the average spend yearly in measures such as detention, Police actions, courts service, detoxification and medical care is about $46,000 Italian (44thousand euro) per person. The annual cost for a single resident of Fort Lyon is much lower: 19.825 dollars (almost 19 thousand euros), and the result is the reintegration into society.