Denver, CO

'Bussed' Venezuelan families flood Denver’s homeless services

David Heitz
A young boy in Venezuela.Daniel Guerra/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Refugees from Venezuela have flooded the homeless families assistance program at Volunteers of America in Denver, according to Angel Hurtado.

Hurtado works with youth and families at VOA. “Dare I say that we’ve seen some families come from Venezuela,” she remarked during a seminar last week hosted by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “I would say they are being bussed here. It is an exploding population.”

The story of the Venezuelan exodus made headlines last month as buses of immigrants arrived in New York City and Washington D.C. The Associated Press reported, “Nearly 8,000 migrants have arrived on the state-sponsored bus trips, straining the resources and humanitarian services of both cities, which have also sought assistance from the federal government.”

Denver Human Services, HOST mobilize

Hurtado said Denver Human Services and the city’s Department of Housing Stability have mobilized to address the issue. “Over the last three weeks we have seen a dramatic increase in the families that we serve.” She said those agencies plan to offer the immigrants help with trauma. People have been fleeing Venezuela, a dictatorship.

Hurtado noted the VOA’s Family Hotel holds 35 families but about 250 families have come through the VOA system recently. Some are housed in hotels the VOA has contracts with.

Hurtado said the Venezuelan families often are large. It’s not just a single mom or dad with two children. “We’ve seen dramatic increases.”

Colorado Coalition for Homeless hosts seminar
Angel Hurtado with Volunteers of America speaks during a seminar hosted by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless called its seminar “Youth and Families Experiencing Homelessness: How can the Response System Adapt?” Panelists included Hurtado, Brittany Wade, a homeless program specialist with the state of Colorado and Cesar Jimenez of Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The speakers said agencies must work together to better serve homeless youths and families. For example, there needs to be a plan when someone exits the foster care system, jail, or an institution. Schools should share information with the Homeless Management Information System, a clearinghouse for homeless data, so better data can be collected, panelists said.

More than 21,000 homeless in Colorado schools
Many homeless youths get around by skateboard.Jeremy Thomas/Unsplash

More than 21,000 children enrolled in Colorado public schools experienced homelessness during the 2019-2020 school year, according to Andrew West of the Coalition. He shared data on youths and families experiencing homelessness. Effects of homelessness on children include:

· More health problems, both mental and physical.

· More likely to be separated from their families.

· More likely to repeat a grade, get expelled, or drop out of school.

· Increased adolescent drug and alcohol use, with 71 percent of homeless youths reporting drug or alcohol disorders.

· More likely to go hungry.

· More likely to spend time locked up. More than half experience jail, prison, or juvenile detention.

· Twenty percent in foster care become homeless the moment they exist the foster care system.

“I know a lot of this can be depressing,” West said. But he added homeless youths who get help at an early age can improve their educational outcomes.

Data on homeless youths, families scarce

Wade said homeless youth approach things differently from homeless adults. While adults try to use homeless support services like shelters, youths are more likely to couch surf and try other ways of “cobbling together needs.” This makes keeping data on youths experiencing homelessness even more difficult, she said.

About 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, according to West. Black, LGBT youth are four times more likely to experience homelessness than heterosexual white youth. In 2019, black families comprised 52 percent of all families experiencing homelessness, according to West.

Wade noted that it’s more difficult to serve homeless youths in rural parts of the state because there aren’t brick and mortar buildings with dedicated full-time staff.

Undocumented immigrants denied some services

Back in Denver, Hurtado said agencies are doing the best they can. “We’re trying to solve a problem that just keeps growing and growing and growing, and the only solution to homelessness really is housing.”

Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for some federal housing supports, Jimenez noted.

“There are a lot of unseen youth and a lot of unseen families out there,” Hurtado said.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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