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'We're at our breaking point': Denver 'not able to sustain' arriving migrants much longer, city officials say

Arriving migrants tell shelter workers that border communities, nonprofits sent them to Denver
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Posted at 4:01 PM, Dec 29, 2022

DENVER – The City of Denver has spent more than $1.5 million on all aspects of sheltering arriving migrants since the first week of December and is on track to spend $3 million by the end of the month, according to city leaders.

“This has been extremely taxing on city resources. We are not a border community. We don't have federal resources like border communities do. So, the help that we can provide in Denver is very limited. And we're at the point where we're not able to sustain much longer. We're at our breaking point,” said Mikayla Ortega, Denver Joint Information Center representative.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, the city has helped 2,761 migrants since Dec. 9. City officials say 130 migrants arrived overnight.

Ortega said the city has not received any update on federal aid but has received some assistance from the state.

“The State of Colorado did approve $1.5 million dollars for assistance, and then there's $2.5 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funding that's been made available statewide. So Denver will get some but… we're exceeding those resources,” Ortega said. “It's really important to be clear that the border crisis coming to our doorstep is not because Denver is a welcoming city. It is a result of the federal government not fixing the immigration problem that has been in existence for decades.”

Ortega said while Denver waits for federal aid, the city added more than 100 jobs to help staff temporary shelters. Workers there are learning more about why migrants are coming to Denver specifically.

“A lot of them have told us that nonprofit groups have sent them to Denver. Some of them have said border communities have sent them to Denver… we're doing our absolute best to ensure that we can serve people and to ensure that a humanitarian crisis does not land in the streets of Denver,” Ortega said.

As city leaders grapple with the lack of resources, Temple Emanuel is serving as a donation drop-off site for community members who are interested in donating items to migrants.

“Last Thursday morning, we were on a call with the Jewish Community Relations Council, which is a community organization full of agency heads and leaders and people that represent all the different congregations and organizations. The Denver Office of Emergency Management was actually on that call asking for resources and support,” said Emily Hyatt, Temple Emanuel associate rabbi. “When they said that they were hoping to open an east side donation center, six of us started texting and emailing each other… and within 24 hours, we had plans to open this site and were able to open on Monday afternoon."

As of noon on Thursday, hundreds of donations have been dropped off.

“Within 24 hours, the items are unpacked and put onto people. So, our turnaround is quite quick. On Monday, we turned around 150 moving boxes full of clothes. It's huge,” Hyatt said.

But Hyatt said more donations are needed.

“We really need men's pants, sweatpants, jackets, belts, shoes. And smaller sizes are super helpful,” Hyatt said. “We also need backpacks and gym bags, nothing bigger. We can't take suitcases. We can't take big duffel bags, but backpacks and gym bags. Imagine that you have crossed the border and you have been swimming and taking buses and walking and driving and riding in boats, and all you have is what is on your back. Finally somebody gives you a clean pair of pants and a jacket. And it would be great if you had a place to hold that.”

Hyatt said the donation efforts follow a long tradition.

“In the Jewish community, we know that we were asked, by our tradition, to love the stranger, right? That's our mandate, love the stranger. It tells us that 36 times. And almost every one of those times comes with a reminder that we've been strangers, we you know what it feels like. You can't just watch somebody walk down the street without what they need. You have to help,” Hyatt said. “People don't walk and bus and boat and crawl this many miles unless they're desperate. And they're desperate. They want for themselves for their children a better life.”

Hyatt said while the city waits for more state and federal resources, Temple Emanuel will continue connecting community members who want to help with those who need it most.

Temple Emanuel is an operational synagogue and will accept donations on Mondays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon through the end of January.