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Denverites stepping in to help migrant families as city resources are stretched thin

"It's just heartbreaking. You know, they just want to work, they want to be part of society."
Migrant Families
Posted at 5:30 PM, Nov 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-01 12:12:30-05

DENVER — The migrant crisis in Denver is growing, with hundreds of people from Central and South America arriving each week. But as city resources are being stretched thin, Denverites are volunteering their time to help wherever they can.

The latest data from the city shows 68 people arrived from south of the border Tuesday — a decrease from the 97 who arrived a day prior. Those figures may not seem like much, but in all, Denver has welcomed more than 28,000 migrants since the beginning of the year.
The influx of people needing support is putting a strain on local resources, but some community members in Denver are now stepping up to help.
“It’s heartbreaking. You know, I was out here at 26th and Zuni two weeks ago, and I was shocked coming now just... to see how much it's grown. And just how many more people are outside,” said Jessica Kulp, who has been helping newly arrived migrant families. “These are our new Denver residents here, they're leaving situations that are not great for them.”

She said help is being organized through local Facebook groups, such as, Highlands Moms & Neighbors - Venezuelan Migrant Support, that are connecting families with housing, donations and other resources.

On Tuesday, Kulp arrived at a hotel in Denver, located near Zuni and Speer, that has been operating as a shelter to help the Tafor family move into temporary housing.

"A family in Central Park has graciously offered their basement. A lot of families are doing that, you know, space that they otherwise wouldn't be using," she said.

Denver7 spoke with Pedro Tafor, a newly arrived migrant who received the temporary housing help. Tafor said the difficult situation in Venezuela is what is forcing thousands of families to flee.

"We feel obligated to leave the country, because there's not enough food, the salary is not enough," he said in Spanish. "I'm very grateful here in Denver, I have no words."

Denverites stepping in to help migrant families as city resources are stretched thin

Jon Ewing, with the City of Denver's Human Services Department, said right now, only about 20-25% of migrants qualify for work permits. He said the city is asking for help at the federal level in order to change that.

"We have no tolerance for children on the streets, we don't want to see that. I know the mayor doesn't want to see that. So we're doing everything we can to get them into better situations," said Ewing.

In early November, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, along with the mayors of Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York, sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal help to manage the surge of migrants that are arriving.

"That's why we are pushing. That's why Mayor Johnston wrote that letter to the White House. It's why he traveled to D.C. and said, 'We need to expand this, we need more money.' We absolutely need to expand who can get a job in this country," added Ewing.

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Ewing said there are a few ways that people can obtain a work permit to be lawfully able to work in the U.S. if they are not citizens. One such way would be to request a work permit as an asylum seeker, which only applies to people who have been here for about five or six months.

"Even the White House can't change that — that's a congressional order, you have to have congressional approval to change that," he said. "So that's a long time — five, six months that you can't lawfully work."

He said another way migrants can obtain work permits in Colorado is if the person requesting the work permit was part of a group that received a 'Temporary Protected Status.'

Ewing said Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. prior to July 31 would qualify for that, and would be able to apply for work authorization.

"They all want to work, they want to work legally, they want to be here just like we are, we need to be helping them more with that," added Kulp. "And that's why we're trying to...—our main objective was getting them warm gear to start off with. And now we're trying to connect them with work permits, we're trying to connect them with work, so they can get their own housing, (so) they can send their children to school, (so) they can learn English, (so) they can start to assimilate into our society and just be Denverites — like the rest of us."

If you’d like to help as the city responds to this migrant crisis, you can do so with donations — either material or monetary. If opting for the former, the city is asking for the following items:

  • Socks (new/unopened only)
  • Bras - small/medium/large
  • Women’s clothing - small/medium/large
  • Men’s clothing - small/medium
  • Winter hats - gender neutral and kids/one size fits all
  • Winter gloves - men's, women's and kids/small and medium sizes
  • Scarves - various sizes
  • Closed toed or winter shoes for children
  • Closed toed or winter shoes for women sizes 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Those items can be dropped off at the following two locations:

  • Community Ministry, 1755 S Zuni St Denver, CO 80223 from Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon. Please call ahead to ask about any specific instructions for drop-off.
  • Para Ti Mujer, 150 Sheridan Blvd. Suite 200 in Lakewood on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please call ahead to ask about any specific instructions for drop-off.

If you want to donate money, you can donate to the Newcomers Fund.

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