After accounting for all unpaid costs, Denver officials estimate the total bill for housing the thousands of immigrants arriving in the city from the southern border in December will be $3 million.
The pace at which refugees have continued to arrive — 166 more arrived between Thursday night and Friday, according to the city's latest update, bringing the total since Dec. 9 to nearly 3,000 — there is little reason to believe these costs will slow down. Significantly in the new year.
"We're currently on hold until the end of January," said Mikayla Ortega, spokeswoman for the city's emergency department. And this is what we have planned as a city," he said.
This means providing emergency shelter, food, sanitation and other basic needs to people sleeping rough in the city. Two recreation centers in the city are offering overnight accommodations, one has been set up as a reception center for new arrivals and another public building has been designated as a refugee shelter until at least Sunday, Ortega said. The city asked news organizations not to list the facilities used because of security and privacy concerns.
Budgeting for what comes next is almost impossible.
"The associated costs are also unknown," Ortega said. "We won't have a solid answer to that until we know how many are coming and how we're going to get them to the next stage of their journey."
The influx of migrants this month has coincided with several dangerous winter storms, further straining the city's housing system. That includes a blast of arctic air that forced the city to open an emergency shelter at the Denver Coliseum four days before Christmas. The event was paid for by the American Red Cross, according to the city's finance department. But this is not an immigration crisis.
The city said the estimated $3 million cost would cover a wide variety of categories, including staffing, transportation, Denver Metro bus tickets and meals.
So far, the city has provided jobs for more than 100 people working in its shelters, Ortega said. More than half of them agreed. They are called temporary.
This number grows. The city is looking for more professionals to help homeless refugees decide their next steps here.
"We want to help these people directly understand plan B … and how we can help them integrate into the country for the long term," Ortega said.
The city initially spent money from the general fund on emergency shelters. That's a plan for the future, but the city is hoping for federal and state help after Mayor Michael Hancock declared a migration emergency earlier this month.
The state Department of Environmental Affairs has already agreed to reimburse Denver $1.5 million, but the grant must go through the City Council process before approval, officials said. Ortega said $2.5 million in federal funding for the American Rescue Plan Act has been set aside to support refugee services, but the money will be distributed regionally instead of going entirely to Denver.
The city is working as quickly as possible to find nonprofit partners or other government agencies that can host short- and long-term refugees, Ortega said. Housing 1,400 to 1,500 people per day, combined with city and partner facilities, is considered sustainable. Mayor Hancock, at a press conference last week, described Denver's support network as fringes.
"We are looking at all options to make sure there is no humanitarian crisis on the streets of Denver," Ortega said.
The American Friends Service Committee is one of the city's partners in meeting the needs of immigrants. This fall, the agency transported 50 refugees from El Paso, Texas, assisted 21 in the Denver metro area and others elsewhere. As program director Jennifer Piper prepares to welcome 50 more this month, she says she's refocused her efforts on serving the people who come here.
Piper said the organization will fill 150 volunteer positions and hire 19 volunteers to provide transportation to support refugees admitted this month. On Friday he received messages from four people who wanted to donate the wealth collected by their families.
Piper predicted that a strong commitment to volunteerism and assistance will be needed in the future. Climate change, conflict and economic inequality are driving mass migration around the world, and Denver seems to be missing out.
"I think Denver is on the map and we're going to welcome people and we want everyone to be a welcome part of (this) community in a way that respects people's human dignity and empowers the underdog. Word Colorado," he said .