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Venezuelan migrants say city's 14-day shelter-stay rule isn't enough time

Migrants who recently arrived to Denver say the rule doesn't allow enough time to find temporary housing, work and other basic needs for those who want to stay.

DENVER, Colorado — People from Venezuela who continue to arrive in Denver are racing against the city's clock because of a recently instated rule. The city now allows migrants to stay for a maximum of 14 days in the city-run shelter system

Those who are currently using the resource as they settle in Denver say the city's timeframe doesn't offer adequate time for them to come up with a different solution, especially after the months-long journey to get into the United States. 

"Well the journey is hard, really hard, because we come from far away, crossing many countries," said Yoendris, from Venezuela, in his native Spanish language. 

Like so many others, Yoendris hopes for a more promising future, fleeing a socioeconomic crisis in Venezuela. Many also fled due to violence and threats. Each have their own reasons for leaving all they have ever known behind. 

"I’m looking for a better quality of life for my children. I’m looking for a stable job where I can earn money and seek stability," said Luis, who hopes to stay in Denver long-term.

Many of those who recently arrived are looking for stability by searching for work. Many have turned to accepting short-term jobs to find stable housing with other people who hope to call Denver home for the long-term. 

"Truly, 14 days is nothing because when you arrive in the area, you don’t speak the language of the people here – English. We do not know the streets. We don’t know anyone, and it’s very hard to interact with people and look for work. Fourteen days is very little," Luis said. 

"No, [it’s not enough time] to be able to get stability, and be able to get out of the shelter, and settle, and be able to depend on ourselves and comply with the regulations here in this country," Yoendris said. 

Those who are currently staying in city-run shelters say they are struggling to come up with a plan for when their deadline comes.

"It’s quite difficult because the 14-day deadline will expire. You can imagine that there will be many people on the street. There’s also children. So it’s really an issue of really asking for to see if they can help us with a job and a place to live, which is what we are really here for," said Jonathan, another migrant hoping to find a solution quickly.

As they seek asylum in the United States, all of them need some kind of work to survive day-to-day. It's a struggle without citizenship to find opportunities to make funds. 

"The truth is the plan is try to get a job in the next 14 days. At the very least, one I can have for week so that I can, with my friends, be able to rent a place to stay," Jonathan said.

Many are asking the city to reconsider their stance on the policy. 

 "I am grateful but I still think that 14 days is very little time to settle in and find a job. There are a lot of people in the shelter who don’t have a job, who can’t find a job. And the majority who want to stay are not going to be able to stay in Denver because they can’t find a job. They don’t even have a job to be able to leave, to be able to take care of yourself. So we are asking for an extension and patience," Yoendris said. 

"No, it’s no sufficient time. Fourteen days in a shelter goes fast. There in the shelter, you’re worried because the time is passing quickly and every day that goes by means another day that you have lost at the shelter so we’re asking for help in extending a little more time," Luis said.

Community activists respond

Non-profit organizations who are working closely with the migrants are also imploring the city. 

Jeanette Vizguerra, a community activist who has spent years fighting her own immigration battle and now works to help other immigrants, said that it’s unbelievable the city is not offering more help. 

"It’s not that I’m nervous. It’s that I’m outraged that logically, people think that fourteen days is enough. It’s not enough," Vizguerra said. "It worries me how many people are going to be left on the street. There are small children. There are even pregnant mothers. There are many men, young people who can work. That is the only thing they are asking for." 

Vizguerra said that the language barriers make it difficult to find a network of people to help support them in the search for housing and work. She fears what will be next for many. 

"It's inhumane to see these people who will have to stay on the streets. They don't know anyone. they don't know the system. They don't know English," Vizguerra said. 

Nonprofits are working together to create a network of resources. The city is calling on faith-based organizations and others who can help in the in-between between shelter stay and permanent housing. 

"Hearing that you are not going to have any shelter in the middle of winter in 14 days has thrown a lot of people into just moving on, as the answer for safety, even though they had started to put down a little bit of roots here, and feel comfortable here," said Jennifer Piper with the American Friends Service Committee. "That announcement has thrown people into a lot of scarcity. My fear is that people will move to another city in search of that basic shelter and dignity, not necessarily because they have someone there to receive them." 

Piper is working on creating that network in partnership with other organizations and says the rule makes it difficult for many who have come to the United States without friends or family. Many of the recent arrivals are "first generation" -- the first in their group of friends and families to settle in America. 

"This announcement has signaled to people that they are maybe not welcome here any longer. That is unfortunate because where we are being close to living in a mid and long-term plan in partnership with the city and the state," Piper said. 

Response from the city

In response to the call from the migrants themselves, as well as community advocates, the city is standing by the policy. In a statement, the city defended their decision and do not plan on extending the time frame: 

"Since early December, over 4200 migrants have arrived in Denver. At our peak, we sheltered 1,500 to 1,800 per night. We do not have the resources or infrastructure to maintain this level of sheltering, and our ability to help has reached its limit.  By limiting someone’s stay in the emergency shelters, we’re helping migrants find better options more quickly and are also ensuring space for new arrivals.   Our intent is to limit stays in our emergency shelters to no more than 14 days.  This is being communicated as folks disembark buses upon arriving in Denver, at the reception center and again at each of the emergency shelters.  From the time they arrive to Denver and throughout their stay in our emergency shelters and our city, migrants are provided resources to connect them with friends and family, transportation, clothing, food, immigration support and other assistance.  We feel 14 days is an appropriate amount of time for migrants to rest up from their travels and get connected to resources to help them in the next phase of their move.  Resource navigators are working with the newly arriving migrants to connect them with housing options and all necessary resources and services. Denver will continue to do everything we can to meet migrants’ immediate needs and set them up for long-term success. If they are unable to meet the 14-day timeframe, we will be working with migrants on an case-by-case basis to determine how to help them transition out of emergency sheltering."  

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