Denver mayor issues emergency declaration to support migrant arrivals

City has spent more than $800,000 on sheltering, reunification efforts

By: - December 15, 2022 3:37 pm

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks to the media about how the city is handling the influx of migrants the city has seen over the last couple of weeks on Dec. 15, 2022, at the Denver City and County building. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued an emergency declaration so the city can more easily free up resources to support the ongoing influx of migrants into the city, having already spent upwards of $800,000 in city funds on the efforts.

At a news conference at the city’s Emergency Operations Center Thursday, Hancock said 247 more migrants have come into the city since Monday, with 411 people sheltered by the city and its local partners. Hancock said he isn’t sure how many more people the city could expect. The original emergency shelter the city set up at a recreation center hit capacity with 275 people, leading to two more recreation centers being taken over by the efforts.

“This influx of migrants, the unanticipated nature of their arrival, and our current space and staffing challenges have put an immense strain on city resources, to the level where they’re on the verge of reaching a breaking point at this time,” Hancock said at the news conference. “What I don’t want to see is a local humanitarian crisis of unsheltered migrants on our hands because of the lack of resources.”

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Hancock noted that most of the people seem to be coming through El Paso, Texas, and while the city has seen groups of migrants arriving for several months, only recently have they started arriving at the current volume and without notice. City officials say the migrants come from Central and South America, including Venezuela. Employees from multiple city agencies are being pulled from their regular duties and “working around the clock” to support these people, Hancock said. 

The city is most desperate for support when it comes to shelter space and staffing. Hancock asked that anyone who might have space that can serve as a shelter, or who can volunteer to help, reach out to the city’s Emergency Operations Center at [email protected]. He thanked the many city staff, volunteers, nonprofit and faith organizations that have already stepped up to support the city’s sheltering and reunification efforts. 

“Our staffing levels are currently stretched extremely thin, and staffing is one of our main factors in determining how many people we can shelter at a given location,” Hancock said. “While this is a difficult challenge to manage right now, as we did with COVID, we’re going to deploy every resource we have at our disposal, and to keep people healthy and safe, because that’s what we’re called to do right now.”

We are committed to doing what we can for the migrants and the asylum seekers who have come here ... But cities all over this country are once again having to respond because of the failure of our Congress and federal government to address a very critical situation.

– Michael Hancock, Denver mayor

Most of the migrants coming into Colorado are heading to Denver, as Hancock said other mayors he has spoken with have only seen a few here and there. He said he’s spoken with mayors in the area about being collaborative with the efforts, but most migrants seem streamlined to Denver because of its shelter system. 

“We are the capital city. The buses stop in our city, and the migrant and asylum seekers don’t know where to go and people are directing them to our shelter system, which makes logical sense,” Hancock said. “But we at the same time are trying to respond to our unhoused in Denver, which is at an unprecedented level, and so it’s overwhelming our shelter system.”

Cots are arranged in an emergency shelter for people arriving from the southern U.S. border at a Denver recreation center, Dec. 13, 2022. (Kevin Beaty/Denverite, pool)

Hancock also thanked the hundreds of Denver residents who have donated clothing and supplies and asked for their continued patience as the city works through the situation. He said he has been in constant contact with state, federal and regional partners and opportunities for their support. Hancock said he’s been in direct contact with Gov. Jared Polis as well as members of Colorado’s federal delegation to help identify additional resources to help. 

The mayor also called on federal officials to “put aside politics and recognize the humanitarian crises” happening at the country’s border, impacting cities like Denver across the country that he says aren’t equipped for the influx. 

“We are committed to doing what we can for the migrants and the asylum seekers who have come here,” Hancock said. “But cities all over this country are once again having to respond because of the failure of our Congress and federal government to address a very critical situation … I’m not trying to sound political, but I’m trying to sound pragmatic and practical. This is going to continue to happen, continue to overwhelm cities all over this country until Congress works on fixing the situation.”

Denver first opened an emergency shelter at an undisclosed recreation center on Dec. 6. There’s an ongoing need for donations and local faith-based groups and nonprofits are continuing to assist the city with its efforts to support the migrants. 

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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