ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — A state-owned secure youth center that has sat vacant for several months may have a new purpose.
In June, the Colorado Department of Human Services decided not to renew the contract for the facility's operator, Rite of Passage.
It cited an "unsatisfactory record of performance and integrity" and "confirmed reports of institutional abuse," according to documents Denver7 obtained through open records requests.
"It served a great purpose for those youth for many, many years, but that population does not necessarily exist for us in the Division of Youth Services today," the division's director, Anders Jacobson, said.
Now, Gov. Jared Polis and several state and local agencies have a new plan for it: turn it into a supportive residential community.
"People need help. Leaving them on the streets isn't the answer. Putting them in jails isn't the answer," he said during a tour of the facility Monday. "To build something like this would cost $120-$150 million from scratch. But because we have a facility that was underutilized, and we can repurpose, the cost will likely be less than 10% of that."
According to the state's Office of Homeless Initiatives, the site would be a place where homeless people can get temporary housing as they receive help with their addiction recovery and mental/behavioral health.
"We know for people who need to work on their behavioral health or recovery, that's almost impossible to do if you don't have a safe and stable place to call home," Yumiko Dougherty, director of strategic planning and implementation at CDHS, said.
The facility's 500-plus acres, its multiple residential halls, and its distance from nearby cities are what captured the governor's imagination.
"Not only does it make it harder to relapse and acquire the illegal substances, but also it's great to be able to walk around outside and have that be part of a healthy healing process to overcome substance abuse," Gov. Polis said.
And unlike a temporary facility for troubled youth, this would operate as an open campus, and people will be able to come and go as they please.
"For some who need this kind of separation and peaceful environment from the hustle and bustle, I think that could be useful," Denver's Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher said.
Gov. Polis said one-time funds that the City of Aurora, Aparahoe County, and the state have yet to use from the American Rescue Plan would be used to help pay for the program.
If the program gets the funding and legislative approvals it needs, it could open within the next two years.