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Arctic blast, surge of migrants strain resources in Denver to shelter people from conditions

Hancock: "For much of the country, the immigration crisis is about to be compounded by another crisis: the arctic cold front that will be arriving in Denver today."
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock provides update on influx of migrants, sheltering operations before Wednesday's cold snap
Posted at 1:37 PM, Dec 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-21 20:25:24-05

DENVER — Ahead of an arctic blast beginning Wednesday night, Denver authorities stressed their work to encourage people experiencing homelessness to seek shelter, as the city continues to provide resources for the more than 1,300 migrants who have arrived in the city this month.

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock held a press conference on Wednesday at noon to discuss the incoming dangerously cold weather and newly arriving migrants to Denver.

Since the beginning of December, 1,321 migrants have arrived in Denver. Of those, 470 are sheltered in Denver's emergency shelters and 192 are sheltered in partner shelters, according to the city.

The Central and South American migrants began arriving in the city on Dec. 5.

READ MORE: Recent migrant arrival in Denver 'does not appear' to be organized by other governments, city says

Hancock thanked the city's employees and partners for their support in helping these individuals.

"Donations of all kinds have been pouring in — clothing, blankets, toys for kids. It has absolutely been an incredible thing to watch and I want to thank all of Denver for leaning in," he said.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock provides update on influx of migrants, sheltering operations before Wednesday's cold snap

To learn more about helping these people, click here.

He added that he also wanted to thank the Denver City Council, which extended Hancock's emergency declaration — issued on Thursday — through Jan. 9.

Denver has spent about $2 million in shelter, transportation, food and other costs to help these individuals, which the State of Colorado also helped with. On Tuesday, the City of Denver applied for $1.5 million from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, according to Margaret Danuser, Denver's chief financial officer. In addition, Hancock said the city plans to apply for federal reimbursement in the next few weeks.

Mimi Scheuermann, chief operating officer of Denver Human Services, said Denver created a reception center for those incoming migrants and is operating two congregate shelters, with a goal to provide people with resources to make a home in Denver or wherever they want to go from here. She said the office is also trying to reunite the incoming individuals with family and friends in the area.

Scheuermann said the office is working to hire short-term shelter assistance. Click here for those positions.

She said she is also calling on the community to help as well, either in the form of donations or volunteering.

The city does not know exactly when the busloads of people will arrive in the city. The reception center is the first point of contact with the migrants, Scheuermann said.

"We're trying to respond as quickly and adequately as we can, but we just don't know who's coming," she said.

Flyers are posted in the bus stations so they know where to go, Scheuermann said.

"I have had conversations with the White House regarding Denver's actions over the coming weeks," Hancock said. "... I want to be clear, as I've told the national media, our immigration system has been broken in this country for quite some time now – well before the pandemic and Title 42 took effect. With or without Title 42, we still have an immigration system that is failing us."

"I implore Congress and the administration to act and to act quickly," he continued. "We need bold interim steps today, but we also need a long-term strategy and plan and policy around immigration."

He spoke with mayors across the country — no less than 10 this week — and they are united on this front, Hancock said.

"It's not just Denver," he explained. "As the storm, the arctic blast, goes across the nation, cities like Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, who are also seeing a surge of migrants, are saying the same thing: 'Not only are we worried about people being outdoors during this time, but we are at a breaking point in terms of resources and ability to accommodate people.'"

Hancock said that's why mayors are talking to counterparts across the nation and the White House. Hancock said he is involved in ongoing conversations with the state and federal government about this.

"Cities are taking the brunt of the crisis," he said. "And we're all at a breaking point. For much of the country, the immigration crisis is about to be compounded by another crisis: the arctic cold front that will be arriving in Denver today."

READ MORE: It’s going to get ridiculously cold in Colorado starting Wednesday night. Here’s what you can expect.

The Denver Coliseum will open at 3 p.m. Wednesday to anybody, including the migrants who just arrived, who needs a warm place to stay during the storm, he said. It will be open 24/7.

In addition, Denver's Parks and Recreation Centers and public libraries will remain open during their normal operating hours for people to warm up.

READ MORE: Dangerous wind chill expected in Colorado. Use this guide to prepare, get ready.

"The weather we are anticipating this afternoon and through the next two days will be extremely dangerous and I encourage everyone to stay inside, to seek shelter and to limit time outdoors," Hancock said.

Dangerously cold temperatures and snow on the way

READ MORE: A look back at other times Denver has seen dangerously low cold temps

Britta Fisher, chief housing officer for the City and County of Denver, added that this severe weather poses a significant danger to those who stay outside.

"We have capacity in our shelters for people experiencing homelessness and the addition of the coliseum as a 24/7 warming center," she said. "We have a strong sheltering system here in Denver and we always stand ready to meet the needs of our community of unhoused residents."

READ MORE: DIA ready for the holiday crush, but arctic blast could throw wrinkle in travel plans

Within Denver's regular sheltering system, 1,936 people experiencing homelessness were sheltered on Monday evening, she said.

To learn about where to find shelter, click here.

Fisher said the Denver Department of Housing Stabilities has three dozen staff members working extended hours — until 9 p.m. daily — to get people inside and safe from the storm.

She added that the Denver community will hold its annual memorial vigil in front of the City and County Building from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday to remember people who died in the past year while experiencing homelessness. Some of them died of exposure, she said — a reminder of the importance of seeking shelter. Those who attend the vigil must bundle up for the conditions, she said.

More than 260 people will be remembered at the vigil, which is coordinated by the Colorado Coalition of the Homeless.

"For many, this will be the only service to mark their passing," she said.

Looking ahead to the incoming cold temperatures, Fisher said the department will work to meet the needs as best as they can.

"We have our ongoing sheltering system for people experiencing homelessness, we have an overflow capacity, we have about 250 beds that we have ready to go tonight," Fisher said. "We also have started to shelter almost 31% more folks than our people experiencing homelessness in the span of two weeks, which shows the city's commitment to continue expanding to meet the human need for this humanitarian crisis."