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A surprise on the plains 

Long Story Short

When I was a younger woman, I believed homeless people were the victims of a vicious economic system, and were in no way responsible for their plight.

But after years of covering the city's homeless, I've seen firsthand that some resist being helped, and toss away second chances. This segment of the homeless community, while not the majority, is the most visible. Nonprofit workers tend to call these people "the chronically homeless."

Often addicted to drugs or alcohol, and sometimes suffering from mental illness, they seem largely unreachable. They flunk out of programs, break housing rules, and alienate those who care about them most. Many have failed numerous programs aimed at helping them — often more than a dozen.

So I was curious when the state decided to reopen Fort Lyon, the old hospital and prison facility, for a program aimed specifically at helping homeless people with addiction and mental health problems.

Actually, maybe "curious" isn't the right word. "Skeptical" might be more accurate.

It's not so much that I thought Fort Lyon was poorly conceived. It was more that I'd started to think that there was a point of no return, when a person gets so buried in addictions and illness that he or she essentially becomes a lost cause.

A year later, I went to Fort Lyon to see how the program was coming along. I wasn't expecting to be surprised. But I was.

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