Mayor Hancock warns Denver overwhelmed by migrant crisis, cold snap

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and administration officials gathered in the basement of the city and county building Wednesday and described a city on the verge of running out of resources to meet the challenges of an influx of migrants from the southern border coupled with a dangerous arctic cold front expected grip a wide swath of the country over the next few days.

More than 1,300 migrants from the southern border have arrived in Denver since Dec. 9, according to the latest update from the city’s Office of Emergency Operations on Tuesday night. More are likely on the way, arriving daily via buses and other forms of transportation. The city is operating two shelters in undisclosed city facilities to accommodate those people, Denver’s Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher said.

With temperatures expected to plunge below zero in the city on Wednesday night, accompanied by wind chill factors as cold as -25, the city is also opening the Denver Coliseum as an emergency 24/7 shelter starting at 3 p.m. The shelter will have 225 beds. Fisher acknowledged that may not be enough and the city is already exploring more alternatives amid a deep freeze that could last into Saturday.

“Not only are we worried about people being outdoors, during this time, but we are at a breaking point in terms of resources and ability to accommodate people,” Hancock said during the press conference. He said he has spoken to the mayors of 10 other cities across the country also concerned about their ability to shelter people during the dual crisis of incoming migrants and arctic cold.

“So we’re all raising the red flag. That’s why we’re all talking to various counterparts across the country, as well as the White House and members of our Congressional delegation,” he said.

The city has already declared a state of emergency for the migrant crisis, a step that opens up more state and federal financial resources and gives the city greater spending flexibility to respond to needs. Hancock estimated Denver has already spent $2 million responding on shelter and other needs for the people who have arrived here, more than 400 of which are staying in city shelters now. On Tuesday, the city applied for $1.5 million in reimbursement from the state for those expenses.

But longer-term solutions are needed, both in Washington when it comes to immigration reform and locally when it comes to shelter space, Hancock said.

“I think it’s important to note these are temporary measures. We cannot lock down the coliseum on a permanent basis, and you can’t lock down these recreation centers on a permanent basis,” He said. “We’re already working and talking about how we transition from these temporary shelter facilities today because we got to get them back online.”

In a news release Tuesday, officials said the city will be providing free buses from the Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center, 2222 Lawrence St., to the coliseum starting Wednesday afternoon. Walk-ins and drop-offs will also be welcome. There will be parking for those who bring vehicles to the arena, located at 4600 Humboldt St., officials said.

Registered service animals will be allowed inside the coliseum but pets will not be, the city said. Denver Animal Protection officials will be available to transport pets to the city’s animal shelter for temporary housing.

The coliseum is open to anyone who needs shelter through the duration of the cold front. Additionally, city libraries and recreation centers will be available for those seeking refuge during the facilities’ regular business hours on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and Friday, officials said.

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