Sober Utopia: A Radical Rehab Experiment

But now Richard was with hundreds of other people like him: chronically homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and taking part in a last-ditch attempt to reboot their lives. They had come from all corners of Colorado, of their own volition, to get clean at an abandoned Army fort in the middle of nowhere.

Residents at Fort Lyon are given a surprising amount of individual freedom. During the first 30 days, you are expected to attend drug- and alcohol-education classes and work with case managers to formulate a recovery plan. The only ongoing expectation is that you attend a community meeting three mornings a week. After that, your time is yours: play basketball, go for a walk along the reservoir, sleep for 20 hours, talk to your case manager, go to classes that are offered on campus by Otero Junior College. Some people swore by the 12-step meetings. Others avoided them entirely. Every resident I spoke with — all of whom had been in some kind of addiction program previously — marveled at this radical autonomy. The standard rhythms of rehab, hustling from meeting to chore to counselor to meeting to meal to chore, were absent at Fort Lyon. This is no accident. Ginsburg explained it as an attempt to break the addict mindset: always onto the next thing, the next stimulus, the next score.

At Pacific Standard, Will McGrath reports on Fort Lyon — “a Betty Ford Center for the homeless — a radical experiment to rehabilitate some of society’s most vulnerable members.”

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