Denver officials are making plans to decommission the city’s emergency shelters for migrants in recreation centers, beginning with setting a two-week limit on how long those seeking shelter can stay.
As the number of asylum-seekers and migrants coming to Denver has begun to slow down, Mayor Michael Hancock has asked city staff to start working on plans to return recreation centers to their original use, according to his Deputy Chief of Staff Evan Dreyer.
We do not have a timeline to decommission our emergency shelters at our rec centers. We are advancing our plans for transitioning the recreation center shelters back to their original use, however, are very early in the process, starting with limiting migrants stay to two weeks. https://t.co/aSyvgj7W5S
— Denver Office of Emergency Management (@DenverOEM) January 10, 2023
There’s no timeline for the transition, as Denverite first reported. The goal is to have community partners step up with facilities for sheltering because, Dreyer said, “the community has an obligation to keep people safe.”
Dreyer said staff has been encouraged by what they’ve been seeing in the last few days by the significant reduction in both the number of daily arrivals and the number of people needing shelter every night.
More than 4,000 migrants arrived to Denver seeking emergency shelter since Dec. 9, though not all of them intend for Denver or even Colorado to be their final destination. The migrants and asylum-seekers have stopped in Denver as part of their journeys fleeing from Central America, a majority from Venezuela.
“A week ago, we had 1,900 people in a number of facilities around the city,” Dreyer said. “And we really didn’t have any more space. We were completely maxed out. We didn’t have any more staff. … And it was at a breaking point — we were there. And so we needed to come up with a number of different strategies and approaches really to begin to help reduce numbers of people in all of these facilities.”
That included transportation — moving people to different cities, at their request — and reducing the amount of time people were in emergency shelter, sleeping on blankets or mats on a gym floor.
But immigration advocates like Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee say the two-week limit without appropriate support in place to help migrants with their next steps is irresponsible.
Piper said it’s been difficult for nonprofit advocates and individuals who are bilingual to get access to the migrants in city shelters, which is needed to build trust with those seeking help and to find out exactly what kind of support would be beneficial to them and their families. When people are first settling into a new country, having someone who will listen to them, explain how systems work and assist with basic necessities is crucial, she added.
And without that individual case management, “the residents of these shelters aren’t going to magically come up with somewhere in 14 days that they haven’t come up with in the days before now,” Piper said.
Nonprofits and faith groups have been able to set up shop at nearby facilities such as libraries to provide resources for the migrants and asylum-seekers, but part of the problem is there just isn’t enough room in the shelters for more people to be in them at all, Dreyer said.
Still, Piper said that’s not enough to work with individuals, especially as many were being moved around from location to location when the shelters became full. Plus, those who have suffered traumatic experiences may hear this and just end up fleeing, making it even harder to find them later and assist them.
Piper recognizes that’s not city officials’ intent, and she commended the work city staff has done in the shelters, but she hopes for a more efficient process to work with the migrants and asylum-seekers that she hopes the state can assist with.
Both she and Dreyer also recognize the need for temporary housing for the migrants after they leave emergency shelters and before they settle in their own homes if they’re staying in Denver — places they can stay for six to eight weeks. Nonprofits and faith groups are meeting this month to discuss possible options.
“We all share the same goal for people to be safe and for people to be as successful as possible in our communities,” Piper said. “So I think it will take everyone to get there. I hope that we do.”
How many more migrants will come to Denver and for how long is unknown — as Dreyer notes border towns and cities across the southern border have been dealing with this for decades. Advocates say they need to be prepared and have plans in place to ensure they can provide the support people need as they transition.