Jan 3, 2024 - News

Denver's migrant crisis hits a "breaking point"

A woman and child take a bus to leave the largest migrant encampment near 27th Avenue and Zuni Street yesterday in Denver. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver could soon be forced to start turning away migrants as the city reaches its capacity to shelter and support an influx of people arriving from Central and South America.

Why it matters: The deepening year-long crisis is causing local leaders to weigh difficult decisions about how to best allocate increasingly limited resources as they continue to call for federal assistance.

  • "We're hitting a breaking point at which there's just not enough … work or housing in the city to support this ongoing volume, not to mention the impact on city budgets," Mayor Mike Johnston said in an interview this week on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Driving the news: Denver — which is providing shelter for more than 4,000 migrants as of Wednesday afternoon — has received more migrants per capita than any other city in the U.S., according to Johnston.

Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats in Congress recently penned a letter to FEMA asking for expanded support, while dozens of migrants showed up at a Denver City Council meeting this week pleading for work permits.

Zoom in: On Wednesday, city leaders disbanded the largest migrant encampment over health and safety concerns and relocated its residents to two new group shelters, which together hold 320 people, Denver Human Services spokesperson Jon Ewing tells us.

  • The move was made possible after council members pooled roughly $300,000 from their own district budgets to help get families off the street.

Yes, but: The organized relocation effort is a "one-time thing" and "isn't sustainable for the long term" due to a lack of funding, staffing and space, Ewing says.

By the numbers: Denver's migrant crisis could cost up to $180 million this year, roughly 15% of the city's budget, Johnston estimates.

  • In December, the city recorded 144 buses full of migrants arriving from Texas and other places, Ewing tells us.

State of play: Since mid-November, the city put a pause on its 37-day shelter limit for families to prevent them from falling into homelessness. But Ewing says given the current influx, "eventually, we're going to have to resume the family discharges."

  • Denver's 14-day shelter limit for individual adult migrants remains in place.

The big picture: The city is "hitting a point that there's not much else we can do," and relief remains unlikely, Johnston said.

  • "We are the shortest and cheapest bus ticket north of El Paso. You come straight north on I-25 from El Paso, Denver's the first big city you hit."
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