Denver Asking for Help from Neighboring Cities, Counties for Migrant Sheltering | Westword

Denver Wants Other Metro Governments to Help With Migrant Sheltering

Hancock officials want help from other cities and counties.
The City of Denver is hosting migrants at emergency shelters in recreation centers.
The City of Denver is hosting migrants at emergency shelters in recreation centers. City of Denver
Share this:
As the City of Denver continues to bear the brunt of the migrant arrivals in Colorado, Mayor Michael Hancock's administration wants to see other metro governments helping out.

"So far, no one has stepped up, and I think it’s disappointing, but maybe not surprising," says Alan Salazar, Hancock's chief of staff. "I don’t think it’s a good answer for other communities to see this national problem and to say, 'You know what? It’s somebody else’s problem, so we’re not seeing a place to be helpful.'"

Hancock has recently reached out to to other cities and counties in the metro area to see if they can shelter some of the migrants, but there have been no takers yet, he says. So far, Denver has spent over $3 million on sheltering and services for the migrants.

On December 29, Denver reported that it has served 2,761 recently arrived migrants who came up from border states after crossing into the United States. Many of these migrants are Spanish speakers, including some from Venezuela.

On Christmas night into December 26, 156 migrants arrived in Denver. That same night, the city and local service providers sheltered 1,278 migrants spread across recently established emergency shelters, churches and regular overnight shelters. The emergency shelters currently occupy two Denver recreation centers, and the city is using a third recreation center as a reception center for the new arrivals.

Denver and local service providers are also continuing to provide shelter for homeless individuals in addition to the migrants. During the especially cold weather in the lead-up to Christmas, Denver established a temporary warming shelter at the Denver Coliseum.

"The shelter and staffing challenge, I think, is just daunting, and that’s why we are really at a point now where we’re trying to sound the alarm bell. We don’t want to see people on the street like you see in El Paso, particularly with the temperatures that we live with in this part of North America," Salazar says.

While not providing shelter space for migrants, some neighboring municipalities and counties are at least providing some support.

"Through the Boulder Office of Disaster Management, which is co-funded by Boulder County and the City of Boulder, we are providing support to Denver’s sheltering operations," says Julie Causa, a spokesperson for the City of Boulder who was also speaking on behalf of Boulder County. "This includes a half-time staff person who is focusing on providing recruitment, training and background checks for volunteers, and some county human services staff who have worked shifts at Denver shelters."

Causa adds that Boulder is working to identify other ways to assist Denver.

In Jefferson County, government leadership held a meeting with county department directors last week to let them know that Denver had requested help and that the directors could decide whether to ask their own employees if they'd like to assist Denver.

"I know it was kind of left open to each group how they'd like to proceed," says Jeremy Fleming, a spokesperson for Jefferson County.

But Jeffco has not yet set up a shelter for migrants.

"Right now, we're evaluating our resources. We didn't have anything previously set up, so we would have to set something up. And that requires resources. So we're just in the stage of evaluating what we can and can't do to help out," says Kate Newman, the acting Jefferson County manager.

In Arapahoe County, the county commissioners have "not had any formal conversations or action regarding the migrant influx in Colorado," but they've shared with "partner networks information on volunteer sign-ups for Denver and donation drop-off locations," according to Chris Henning, a spokesperson for the Arapahoe County Commissioners Office.

The State of Colorado has offered money to each county or city that helps with sheltering migrants. Thus far, Denver, which received $1.5 million from the state, has been the only metro government to apply for the money. There's still $1 million left for any other local government that wants to help.

"Colorado is a local-control state, and local communities are best equipped to address issues they face, and the state government has been supporting the City and County of Denver with this response. At this time, most of the migrants arriving in Colorado are arriving in Denver," says Chynna Cowart, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

However, as much as Denver and the state work on this issue, it's really not up to them how and when people choose to come to the Centennial State.

"Ultimately, this is a failure of federal policy. It’s not a Denver problem. It’s a federal problem," says Salazar.

Senator John Hickenlooper's office agrees, with Anthony Rivera-Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Hickenlooper, saying that the senator "has called the situation at the border a symptom of our broken immigration system and consistently called for comprehensive immigration reform, including a legal pathway for DREAMers, TPS recipients and essential workers."

Hickenlooper's office has been in contact with the Hancock administration, Rivera-Rodriguez notes.

Senator Michael Bennet's office is also staying in touch. “Our office has been closely monitoring the situation, and has been working in collaboration with the city, state, and other members of the congressional delegation to determine how best to access federal resources to support the city," says spokesperson Rachel Skaar. "It’s past time for Washington to stop exploiting the crisis at the border for politics and come together in a bipartisan way to fix our broken immigration system.”

As for potential relief from the feds, Salazar points to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

"We will work to make an application for those dollars, but it’s a reimbursable kind of situation, so we would have to wait to see how much money is in that fund and see if Congress will continue to appropriate dollars for it. There’s a FEMA process, which is a government process you go through, so it’s not an immediate form of assistance," Salazar says.

Hancock's team has also been in touch with the White House and President Joe Biden's administration in recent weeks over the migrant crisis. One takeaway from those conversations is that the Biden administration has been preparing to dole out resources to border communities whenever Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that allows federal authorities to quickly expel migrants, lapses.

"Whether or not a community like Denver should be included, we would obviously argue that we’re impacted. The border crisis is not just on the border," Salazar says. "There may be other actions the federal government could take. I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to do what needs to be done on immigration reform."
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.