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As Denver scales back aid, new immigrant families must leave shelters

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Cities across the U.S. are struggling to manage the tens of thousands of migrants who've been arriving via the country's southern border for more than a year now. Denver is among them. The city rented hundreds of hotel rooms to provide temporary shelter for migrants, but now it's starting to evict some of them, including families. Many are scrambling to figure out how to survive in the Rocky Mountain winter. Kyle Harris with Colorado Public Radio's Denverite site has been watching the evictions, and he joins us now from Denver. Hello, Kyle.

KYLE HARRIS, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So, Kyle, why is Denver evicting families from hotels now in the middle of winter?

HARRIS: Well, new immigrants keep coming every day, and with limited space, the city has to make room. So families who are new to the hotels are now being given 42 days to stay inside. But those who've been in them until now are in the process of having to leave.

FADEL: So let's talk about the number of people that are impacted and, really, the number of people who've come to Denver. In a little over a year, Denver has seen an influx of some 38,000 migrants. Many of them have been sent there by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Has the city been using hotel rooms to house all of those migrants?

HARRIS: Well, not for everyone, but it has rented rooms for as many as 5,200 at a time, prioritizing families with children. Now, the city initially told families they could stay for 37 days, but when that time ran out and people in the city started seeing kids living on the streets, there was a big uproar. So for a couple of months, the city started letting families stay longer. But now mayor Mike Johnson says that money's tight and the city can't shelter people indefinitely.

FADEL: And so how many people have had to leave the hotels? Where are they going?

HARRIS: So right now, the city says 160 people would be removed yesterday. And by the end of the week, more than 450 people will be removed from the shelters. Yesterday I went to two of the hotels and spoke to families, and they're frustrated they had to leave and they aren't sure where they're headed. There aren't really other shelters available for that many people, and these people leaving the shelter realize that they may soon join camps all over Denver where new immigrants are already living outside and in tents.

Almost everyone I talked to told me that, basically, they want to work and they want to be able to pay rent, but currently they're not able to work yet. Most are Venezuelans, many are here legally, but that does not mean they're currently allowed to get jobs. Denver's mayor has been asking the White House and Congress to speed up work authorizations, and the border deal in Congress talks about doing just that.

FADEL: I mean, it sounds like these people can't work. A lot of them will no longer have shelter. Is Denver offering the migrants any other options?

HARRIS: Yes. So the city has been offering immigrants who want to go to another part of the country free bus tickets. The most popular cities people want to go to currently are New York and Chicago, where the mayors are already trying to take care of massive new immigrant populations sent from Texas. And the mayors have asked Colorado to stop bussing immigrants to them.

FADEL: Is anyone else stepping up to help these people who are getting evicted?

HARRIS: Absolutely. It's pretty inspiring. There have been thousands of Denverites who've organized themselves to support the new immigrants. The volunteers are not allowed into the city shelters, but they do stand outside. They offer food, resources, transportation and more. Some longtime Denver families are sheltering immigrants while they wait for work authorization, and others are actually helping immigrants set up encampments with tents and latrines and places to cook. And then when the city pushes those camps on, the volunteers help them set up a new place to stay.

FADEL: Kyle Harris is a reporter for the news site Denverite. Thank you, Kyle.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Harris