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Denver migrant advocates say six months of free rent, food not enough: 'A slap in the face' and 'offensive'

Migrants and an advocacy group in Denver decried the city’s new Asylum Seekers Program that offers six months of free housing, calling it “insufficient” and “offensive” despite the mayor cutting the city’s emergency budget to accommodate the migrant surge.

The sanctuary city has been struggling to stretch its limited resources to support the growing number of migrants making their way to Denver. More than 40,000 migrants have found their way to the city since December 2022, more per capita than any other U.S. city – at a total cost of around $68 million, the New York Post reported.

Last week, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston announced that his city’s migrant program would now provide what he called “a long-term, sustainable response” to address the migrant “crisis” locally. The program will offer six months of free housing, food assistance, workforce training and more to the roughly 1,000 migrants currently in the city’s shelter system as they wait for authorization to work, according to the New York Post. Due to the federal asylum seeker law, it can take up to 180 days to obtain working authorization.


Johnston’s office said his plan will treat “our newcomers with dignity while avoiding the worst cuts to city services.” But to make the program financially feasible and cover the cost of migrant services, Johnston made budget cuts in other areas, including his emergency departments.

Under the new program, the Denver Police Department budget will be slashed by roughly $8.4 million, or 1.9%, Newsweek reported. The city’s fire department will also face a budget reduction.

The new plan mandates that migrants who arrive in the city must vacate shelters after 24-72 hours, after which they will be “provided a short-term stay at a congregate site along with assistance securing onward travel to another destination,” the Post reported. Previously, migrants were allowed to stay in shelters between two and six weeks.


Housing advocacy group Housekeys Action Network Denver (HAND) slammed Johnston for the changes, accusing the Democrat of taking insufficient action to accommodate the migrants in his city.

“Every new migrant that comes is going to be left to fend for themselves after 24 to 72 hours,” HAND spokesperson V. Reeves told local ABC affiliate KMGH-TV. Reeves called the program “a slap in the face and an offensive period of time.”

Willy Bastidas, a migrant, told the station that the new rules would only further contribute to the homelessness problem in the city.

A migrant lie on the sleeping pad at a makeshift shelter in Denver, Colorado

“I think that it’s insufficient,” he told KMGH, adding, “the mayor doesn’t represent us … He needs to listen to us and work with us to a better solution.”

Earlier this year, Johnston predicted that the migrant crisis would cost the city around $180 million. He previously told Fox News that the city was “very close” to a breaking point due to the crisis and announced the city was cutting $5 million from public services while pinning the blame on Republicans and former President Trump. 


The city has supported more than 38,000 migrants from the southern border at a cost of nearly $58 million as of March 2024, Fox 31 reported. Venezuelans make up the vast majority of those that have arrived in the city since 2023, according to the Colorado Sun. Texas has transported thousands of migrants to sanctuary cities like Denver, to showcase the problems that border states face when migrants flood their cities. 

homeless in LA

The influx of migrants has also put the city’s health system at a breaking point with about 8,000 illegal immigrants recording about 20,000 visits to Denver Health last year, receiving services such as emergency room treatment, primary care, dental care and childbirth. 

Last month, the city asked local property owners to house some of the “newcomers” who need a place to stay as an alternative way to house its illegal immigrants.

Fox News’ Michael Dorgan contributed to this report.

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