Number of unhoused Latinos in Carbondale reaches 100, children join group

Approximately 60 people who were previously living under a bridge in Carbondale have been placed in a temporary shelter.
Courtesy/Voces Unidas

At least 25 new people have arrived in Carbondale since Nov. 5 to join the group of unhoused Latinos who have been living under the bridge near the main entrance to town, according to a post from Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

The Voces Unidas post, which was last updated Sunday, thanked community members and organizations that have been involved with helping the group of unhoused Latinos. 

“The number now has exceeded 100 (people now looking for housing),” said Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas. 

Sanchez said Voces Unidas has identified six children belonging to three families among the group. A family with two children, ages 6 and 8, arrived on Nov. 9 from Denver. A second family with three more children, ages 2, 4 and 9, arrived from Denver on Nov. 10. 

One of the children identified that week, a 17-year-old girl, had been with the group since before Nov. 5 but hadn’t disclosed her age to Voces Unidas. Most of the children in the group are accompanied by at least one parent, according to Sanchez. 

All six minors and their families have been placed in temporary housing. Sanchez said two of the families were placed in Glenwood Springs by the Salvation Army, with the third family being placed in Aspen a few days later on Nov. 13. 

“They spent the entire weekend (without housing), because we could not find anyone to support them until Monday,” Sanchez said. 

Around 50-60 people who were previously living under the Carbondale bridge have been placed in a temporary shelter at the Third Street Center in Carbondale. The shelter can only house people during the night because it’s being operated by a working nonprofit, meaning that those using the shelter have to leave during the day. Additionally, the space is very limited in terms of facilities; there are no showers, no storage, no kitchen and no refrigeration. 

The post on Voces Unidas’ website from last week confirmed that the shelter is at capacity and cannot accept any more people. The rest of the group continues to report sleeping in cars or in area hotels when they can afford it. 

“We are not an organization that has experience matching families, and certainly we believe safety is important,” Sanchez said. “And so, while we’ve had a lot of offers from people who have a spare bedroom … that’s not for us to decide.” 

Sanchez said Voces Unidas feels much more comfortable entrusting housing to organizations experienced in matching programs for things like hotel voucher programs and homeless shelters, especially when it comes to screenings and ensuring the safety of all parties. 

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough support from these organizations to meet the housing needs of the group of migrants.

More support needed

Rather than coming from nonprofit and local organizations, most of the aid has come from individuals in the community, according to Sanchez. 

“Most of the other support has come from individuals, not nonprofits,” Sanchez said. “The food that’s being served, the hot meals, are not nonprofits. They are individual leaders and members of the community who we’ve been coordinating (with).” 

Sanchez explained that the ability of organizations and nonprofits to coordinate with large teams and assess situations over time is precisely the reason why they should be outnumbering the efforts of individual residents, especially since many of the 100 migrants experiencing homelessness don’t have a way to drive to food banks and other services. 

The best way individuals can get involved in sharing resources with the group of Latinos is by directly supporting the nonprofits who have consistently been responding to those needs. 

Lack of shelter isn’t the only challenge the group continues to face. Sanchez said that while some community members have donated items such as food and clothing to the group, it isn’t always what they need. 

“What’s happening right now is good Samaritans and good members of our community who read the news stories are sort of wanting to drop off two or three things or a box of clothing. But that may not be what the folks need or want or the right sizes,” Sanchez said. “We have a census for the group so that we’re meeting their needs and that we’re not creating sort of a storage problem where we have tons of things that are going unused that now someone is responsible for recycling or getting rid of.” 

Community leaders representing various organizations and nonprofits in the county attended a Nov. 7 meeting hosted by Voces Unidas where they discussed the needs and challenges faced by the group of newcomers, but help from local organizations has so far proven slow to come.

“We still have not seen nonprofits step up. We need more and more support,” Sanchez said. “While that (meeting) room was full … and that was just remarkable to see how community can come together, we’ve seen very little action from the nonprofit community.” 

Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of Voces Unidas, addresses a group of Venezuelans who have been taking shelter at a bridge near the entrance to Carbondale.
Courtesy/Voces Unidas

Some organizations have stepped up to donate items or serve food to the group, but then step away after doing so. Others have been more consistent in their efforts.

“I want to recognize Salvation Army, they placed two families. That’s big,” Sanchez said. “They literally came and did case management and placed two families in two different hotels. That’s huge.” 

The Roaring Fork School District sent out a Nov. 14 news release detailing their own involvement with the group of unhoused newcomers, stating they enrolled children from the group in preschool and elementary school programs after the Carbondale Police Department referred a family with young children to the Family Resource Center of the Roaring Fork Schools in mid-October. 

They have been in contact with two families to “provide wraparound support services including help with temporary housing, transportation, food, and clothing,” according to Interim Superintendent and Chief of Student and Family Services Anna Cole. 

Sanchez emphasized the need for wraparound services, giving the example of a family with children who was able to get housing but had gone three days without food. 

“There’s all these supports that need to come with the placement, not just the placing in a hotel. And so now we’re going to go and buy gift cards and give the mom gift cards because that’s what they need,” Sanchez said. 

Voces Unidas has spent around $5,000 in gift cards for City Market for the group of newcomers they’ve been in contact with. 

“I think what we’re seeing is that our systems and our safety net are imperfect and that all of us are sort of learning on the go, and that we’re ill-prepared for an emergency and ill-prepared for a crisis like this,” Sanchez said. “We should expect that this is not going to end tomorrow and whatever model, whatever systems we create, my hope is that they’re sustainable and that they allow us to … welcome people to our community in a dignified way without a nonprofit that does advocacy having to step in to model how service delivery or emergency response should be done. It is not our place. It is not our role.” 

What you can do to help

The post on Voces Unidas’ website lists several ways nonprofits and community organizations can help provide resources for the group. In addition, Voces Unidas has activated its Emergency Assistance Fund, which uses monetary donations to provide direct assistance. 

Organizations that wish to help with any of the needs listed on the Voces Unidas website can contact Irene Wittrock at to schedule and coordinate. 

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.