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Pressures among migrant arrivals leads to fights at Aurora nonprofit, more support sought from metro-area cities



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    AURORA, Colorado (KCNC) — Building pressures, serving refugees and undocumented immigrants have led to disagreements and fights as a shortage of resources puts people in conflict.

“It’s not because you’re packed at like a football game and you’re out being rowdy. It’s just people are hungry. They’re needing,” said Jose Gomez, program manager at the Village Exchange Center in Aurora.

Recently at a food pantry event at the Mexican consulate run by the organization, trouble broke out among people who are scrambling to get resources to survive. There was fighting, and a doctor was shoved.

“We are seeing a massive amount of aggression at both our clinic and our food pantry, and it’s because there’s not enough support for these individuals,” said Amanda Blaurock, the co-founder/executive director.

The Village Exchange Center is a community-focused organization serving diverse populations. In recent months the number of refugees and other immigrants who have showed up looking for services has multiplied. Among the approximately 15,000 refugees who have arrived in Denver since late last year, about 23% have stayed or returned to the metro area after attempting to go somewhere else. Now, there is a rise in demand primarily attributed to an influx of new migrant arrivals that are moving from Denver to Aurora, particularly from Afghanistan and South America.

On Tuesday, they were lining up at the center at 16th and Havana as workers gave people COVID-19 shots under a state program that supplies them with $100 gift cards for getting the vaccines.

Many have no source of income at all. Some are housed in hotels and temporary housing. Some have managed to get apartments with help. Still others are unhoused.

“So you have a lot of people coming that are here with four to six children, and you can tell they haven’t slept. Some of them haven’t showered in days. And they’re here for hours sitting in the sun, just for the hundred dollars.”

Workers say some have attempted to get multiple vaccinations because of the money they need. Many have come over the border from Denver, unaware of the community they are in. But because the center is a nonprofit based in Aurora, funding does not come from Denver.

The center’s food pantry was serving about 180 families. Blaurock says that’s now up to about 500. Conflict is inevitable.

“When I received an email from one of my staff saying we don’t feel safe, the team doesn’t feel safe, we would like for there to be security guards, that keeps me up at night,” she said.

The center has added security. On Tuesday, a guard was calling out numbers to people outside, to allow them in the door for their vaccinations. Still, Colorado is far better than where many were.

“I can’t work, but I thank God that I can start a new life,” said 36-year-old Franklin, who traveled to the United States in a long and dangerous journey with his wife, Amber, and their baby. “People get robbed or kidnapped or extorted on their journey here.”

Back in Venezuela, there was no work and only occasionally a bag of food from the government. They left three other children behind with family. Franklin is hoping for a work permit, so he can get started. “

They’re just people, just need a little kickstart. It’s not that they’re waiting for a handout,” Jose Gomez said.

The increased crush of people has Blaurock trying to be innovative to bring in money to offer services. There was more money during the pandemic, but it has dried up. There have been no FEMA funds this year.

“This is a federal issue; this is a FEMA issue. This is a migrant issue that’s federal,” Blaurock said.

But it’s also a state and metro issue. With migrants heading to Aurora, she is hoping for help.

There hasn’t been money from the Newcomers Fund, which was created by the Rose Community Fund to distribute to nonprofits in the migrant crisis.

“We did not receive funding from that, and we did not receive money from Denver to do the support we do now because we’re in Aurora. But we’re serving all the people coming from Denver,” Blaurock said.

As people have traveled to Aurora, the needs are growing without funding.

“The wheels of government do turn very slowly,” Blaurock said.

She will be talking with the office of Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday hoping for a solution that would mean help from the state.

“We are trying to get funding from the state for what I’m calling a community relief fund, and that would set up a permanent community infrastructure so that the state can then fund organizations like us.”

Denver metro area governments too, she believes, should step in.

“We would absolutely like to see all the city officials in the metro area come together and make this decision,” Blaurock said. “Really it’s Denver’s issue. It’s not Aurora; it’s not Adams, it’s not Arapahoe; it’s a Denver issue, but that’s not the way that individuals work.”

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