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Former employees call for improvements at Denver migrant shelters

"I just realized that this was becoming kind of a game of numbers, not a shelter that has solutions."
Denver migrant shelter
Posted at 5:45 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-20 20:30:10-05

DENVER — Two former shelter employees are calling for improvements to migrant facilities as Denver continues to see an influx of new arrivals.

Cameron Segura, a former shelter manager, said the solutions offered to migrant families are not tailored to them.

"We need ESL classes.... we need courses in asylum," said Segura. "I think that Denver's kind of missing the mark in terms of providing what migrants need to get them to a place where they can be self-sustainable. What we have is this cycle that's just continuing without any kind of plan to give the people that we're trying to help plans for sustainability or longevity."

He said shelter employees should receive more training, and believes the city should collaborate more with community members who want to help.

"The shelters need to be more transparent about what's working and what's not — what they need and what they don't have," Segura said. "If the shelters could partner with the community and be more transparent , we could start passing people off to families that have houses once they're done with their 14 days. I just think we need to be more innovative in our approach. And we're not — and it's causing dangerous situations."

Evan Way, a former emergency service worker for the Denver Department of Human Services, used to work at Denver Community Church's shelter and agrees there is room for improvement.

"There needs to be thought to create systems to support the immigrant refugees coming in to develop their own plans for their life, to help them create their own vision for their future within especially the limited timeframe that they have," said Way. "That was one thing that myself, my colleagues, we did our best to try to implement, although there was no support from the Department of Human Services to even create that."

Former employees call for improvements at Denver migrant shelters

Both believe more flexibility when it comes to donations could help.

"We were told that we were not allowed to bring in items or donations of our own. It's things like this that just do not make sense that made managing the crisis even that much more challenging," Way said.

In a statement, the Denver Department of Human Services said it is "simply trying to come together and provide as much support as we can while we work toward a larger goal."

"We have always considered new arrivals from the southern border and the existing population of people experiencing homelessness to be separate groups with separate needs. As you know, some migrants are currently experiencing homelessness and as a result there has been crossover within city departments. We are simply trying to come together and provide as much support as we can while we work toward a larger goal of getting people off the streets and into better solutions.

Denver has not discharged families from shelter since Nov. 17 and has actively encouraged those with children to come inside and out of the cold. We do reserve the right to discharge families for behavioral reasons, such as violence toward others.

While the pause in discharges is not permanent, it is our hope that this added time in shelter has put families in position to work with nonprofits and the community toward a goal of sustainability. Speaking of the community, in addition to housing we are also working with them to assist with everything from travel to securing employment. We do have to be very careful when it comes to clothing donations, as we have only so much space within our shelters and too many items piling up can be a fire hazard. We should also note that Denver has collected thousands of donated clothing items and distributes them as requested and as needed. Our policies on food and clothing are in place to ensure equity among our more than 3,700 guests and so that rooms remain clean and pest-free.

We agree wholeheartedly that we need to be thinking in both the long and the short term. It’s why, earlier this month, we brought together community advocates, City Council members, educators, employers, and other stakeholders from all over Denver for our first-ever meeting of the Newcomers Advisory Council and why we will soon be moving families from shelter into bridge housing through our partnership with the Archdiocese of Denver. But while we continue to focus on the long-term, the short-term has not gotten any easier. Denver is currently seeing more than 200 arrivals per day and has received 75 buses from Texas this month alone. Nine of those buses arrived just yesterday."

According to the city, as of noon, 127 migrants arrived to Denver Wednesday, while 263 arrived Tuesday. The city has served 32,885 migrants.

There are 3,670 migrants receiving shelter in non-city facilities, according to Denver's migrant dashboard.

In its statement, the Denver Department of Human Services said the city is seeing more than 200 migrant arrivals per day and has received 75 buses from Texas this month. Nine buses arrived to Denver Wednesday, the department said.

The department said it is focused on long-term solutions, but "the short-term has not gotten any easier."

Segura said this is an opportunity to help these migrant families.

"Denver has never had this and a lot of states have not fielded this issue in the capacity we are," Segura said. "So we have an opportunity to create a model, we have an opportunity to do something here."

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