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Denver makes major shift in migrant response by extending support to six months but limiting spaces

DENVER (AP) — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced a major shift Wednesday in the city’s response to the migrant crisis, extending support to six months but with only about 1,000 spaces. The mayor’s pivot follows failed attempts to get federal aid and deep cuts to the city’s budget as Denver served a total of nearly 41,000 migrants since the end of 2022.

It is a sharp departure from Chicago’s, New York City’s and Denver’s strategy over the past year of weeks- to months- long shelter stays. Instead, Denver’s new program will place asylum seekers in apartments for up to six months, provide job and skill training, opportunities to get certifications and unpaid work experience, food assistance and help with asylum applications.

The goal is to act as a buffer and offer intensive preparation while new arrivals wait six months for a work permit after applying for asylum, under federal law.

“In Denver, we believe that the way to solve these problems is not by turning our back on our American values, but by turning to our American values,” said Johnston, waxing poetic about immigration to America over the centuries.

New York City is only guaranteeing most adult migrants 30 days in the city’s shelter system, which is a patchwork of facilities including converted hotels and huge tent dormitories. Some younger adults and families with children get 60 days. But they — unlike single adults — can also get a new placement when their 60 days run out. That lets them stay in the system as long as they need to do so.

Chicago began enforcing a 60-day limit on shelter stays in mid-March. But many exemptions, including for families with children in school, have meant few people are actually being evicted yet. The city has reported only 101 people leaving shelters so far because of the caps.

As of Wednesday, the city said more than 15,000 people have found other housing since officials began keeping data in 2022. Many have sought rental assistance provided by the state. Chicago has reported more than 38,000 migrants arriving to the city since 2022.

Denver and other Democratic-led cities had asked the Biden administration for help in dealing with the influx of migrants into their communities. Biden in turn asked Congress for $1.4 billion in funding for the effort as part of his budget. But Congress allocated none and cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Shelter and Services Program by $150 million, from $800 million to $650 million.

“Whether we’d like the federal government to do it or not, that was no longer a choice for us,” Johnston said.

In Denver, the roughly 800 migrants currently in city’s shelters would be first in line for the new program, called the Denver Asylum Seeker Program. The city expects the cap of approximately 1,000 to be reached in the coming days.

The city will still run a congregate shelter with stays capped at 24 to 72 hours — far shorter than previous shelter allowances that ranged from two to six weeks. The assumption, Johnston said, is that many new arrivals are either moving forward to other locations or settling with families and friends.

The city’s costs for supporting migrants will be roughly half of what they had initially expected in January. Services such as recreation centers will come back online after being cut to help afford the financial burden of the seven hotels it was operating.

The program was partly made possibly by people offering up their apartments, rental assistance that doesn’t require U.S. citizenships, and nonprofit partnerships providing debit cards for food to cook at home — a less costly strategy than preparing three meals a day for people in shelters.

“We are going to share this playbook with all cities around the country, we think we have now cracked the code on how to help people,” Johnston said.

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Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Jesse Bedayn, The Associated Press


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