NewsLocal News


Denver to close migrant shelters in effort to save $60 million amid budget deficit

Facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced the closure of four migrant shelters he says will save the city around $60 million in costs in the 2024 budget.
Posted: 11:24 AM, Feb 28, 2024
Updated: 2024-02-28 19:30:08-05
mike johnston migrant camp.png

DENVER — On the heels of cuts to city services to address a multi-million-dollar budget deficit in part due to the city’s ongoing response to the migrant crisis, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston on Wednesday announced the upcoming closure of four migrant shelters he says will save Denver around $60 million in costs in the 2024 budget.

With the change in the city’s strategy to address the crisis, Johnston said more work will be done to find additional cuts.

“That means the $180 million deficit that we were facing is now closer to $120 million. That still leaves us $120 million of cuts to make,” said Johnston during a press conference. “So that means we still have work to do.”

Johnston said the city will close one migrant shelter a week over the next four weeks.

In addition to the shelter closings, Johnston said the city’s reinstatement of the length of stay program at shelters several weeks ago resulted in around 2,500 people leaving those shelters, which he said, cut the nightly shelter population by around 90 percent.

The limits mean individuals can stay at shelters for 14 days while families with children are allowed 42 days.

“We knew if we were going to exit people, we had to double down on very high quality case management so we can exit people successfully to housing and to work opportunities without having them end up unhoused or on the streets."

Johnston added that since the changes to the length of stay at shelters, the city had not seen “significant increases” of unhoused people on the streets.

“The single most important thing we can do to help connect people to opportunity is to get their work authorization,” said Johnston.

According to city stats, there were 2,300 people in Denver-run shelters with around 30 people arriving daily, according to a news release.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Denver City Council President Jamie Torres addressed what the city has done over the last few weeks to help migrants achieve work status.

“The city has assisted 600 people filling out and submitting their work authorization documents. Another 700 are expected over the next two weeks,” said Torres. “So four clinics have been held. I believe another five are coming up this will go through next week.”

Johnston added that the city has helped process work authorizations for around 1,000 people in the last couple of weeks “and get access to legal work authorization within the next 30 days,” said Johnston.

District 1 Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said in addition to the work authorizations, the city has helped hundreds of migrants find temporary housing.

Frustrations grow among Denverites as city explores more budget cuts to address migrant crisis

“Since January 31, the city has provided case management to over 700 individuals, which includes 500 people who have secured temporary housing thanks to the case management outreach,” said Sandoval.

She said around 50 percent of those who obtained temporary housing were children.

“That's a huge impact for me as we had the encampment in Northwest Denver. We saw children living in tents for the first time in Denver's history,” said Sandoval.

The hotels serving as migrant shelters that will close include one in Aurora and three in northeast Denver and according to the city, the goal is to keep those shelters permanently closed.

denver city and council building_fall 2023.jpg


Denver is cutting these services in 2024 to respond to the migrant crisis

Óscar Contreras
12:52 PM, Feb 09, 2024

The city said the number of migrants in shelters has dropped by around half since peaking in January and currently the occupancy numbers are at the lowest number in around three months.

“Our plan is to try to close the shelters and keep them closed and move away from a system that has revolved largely on significant numbers of open hotels. For ongoing housing, we're trying to do more and better at the case navigation that gets people directly from shelter opportunities into housing or into workforce options support and onward travel,” said Johnston.

With the four hotels set to close, three hotels will remain open in addition to several congregate sites which include a church.

Despite closing the four hotels, Johnston said the city would have capacity to address another migrant surge if it were to happen in the future.

“So what we've shown we can do is we can manage folks that arrive successfully. We can exit them successfully to programming and services and we can reduce city budgets,” Johnston said. “But what we can't do is have a city that stays on the hook for $180 million in costs without any federal support, without increasing work authorization or without a coordinated entry plan.”

Wednesday’s press conference comes after Aurora’s City Council this week approved by a 7-3 vote a resolution effectively halting city support of migrants and people experiencing homelessness.

“We are bringing forward a resolution to let cities know that they're not allowed to bus migrants into our community without us knowing," said Councilman Steve Sundberg during Monday’s vote. “We want to simply let our residents know that although we are empathetic towards the plight of such folks, we cannot host them out of pure reality and our financial situation.”

aurora city council migrant resolution approval


Aurora approves resolution halting financial support of migrants, unhoused

Colette Bordelon
10:45 PM, Feb 26, 2024

The adopted resolution was amended before the vote to eliminate a portion that would have allowed Aurora to take in immigrants if a financial agreement was reached beforehand.

No Aurora public funds, services or staff resources would be directed to migrant support.

Denver has spent around $58 million in its effort to support 38,861 migrants as of this week leading to cuts in services including a reduction in DMV and Parks & Recreation services.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Councilmember At-Large Danielle Jurinsky, who co-sponsored Aurora’s resolution, took aim at Denver’s cuts.

“In Aurora, we’re not going to cut our services, we’re not going to shut down our rec centers. We’re not going to do what Denver is doing and cut services to the people who live here,” said Jurinsky.

“What I find to be inhumane is knowing that the City of Aurora does not have the funds to start cutting out of our budget like Denver does, so to intentionally bus these people into a city knowing there is no help for them here, there will be no services for them here because we do not have the budget for that. That is inhumane.”

Aurora City Council approves resolution halting financial support of migrants, unhoused population

During Wednesday’s press conference, Mayor Johnston addressed Aurora’s actions.

“First of all, it's false that we're sending them to Aurora. Second of all, I'd say history is pretty clear on this. There's a long history of cities in this country over centuries who bet on being anti-immigrant in their economic strategies, and look and see how those cities have done,” said Johnston. “Those cities have been on the losing side of history and every single moment and there have been other cities that have been welcoming,”

Wrapping up the press conference, Mayor Johnston added: “Denver has been and will be the most vibrant city in the state for decades to come. And it will be that way because it will be a place that's welcoming to folks who want to come and help build into something better. We will bet our future on that,” said Johnston. “But if folks want to bet their future on closing their doors, we'll see who wins.”

At at city council meeting following the mayor's press conference, council members pressed the mayor's team to provide more information about how the city is adding up migrant costs.

"I need more specificity around how we're arriving at these numbers," Councilwoman Stacey Gilmore told Denver Department of Human Services executive director Anne-Marie Braga. "All of us need to be able to walk our residents through how we're doing our math."

Even though the mayor said the city is not abandoning migrants and will continue to help them find housing, jobs, or onward travel, some advocates worry about what's to come.

Some adult migrants have returned to a local encampment since leaving shelters.

"We're really concerned that this last batch that he's gonna be turning out over the next four weeks do not have any sort of plan," said Amy Beck, an advocate for the unhoused. "We're kind of holding our breath right now to see if the camp is gonna grow much larger over the next four weeks."

Denver to close migrant shelters in effort to save millions amid budget deficit

D7 follow up bar 2460x400FINAL.png
The Follow Up
What do you want Denver7 to follow up on? Is there a story, topic or issue you want us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.