‘This is a crisis’: 80 unhoused Latinos living under Carbondale bridge

Andrea Teres-Martinez
Post Independent
A group of Latinos, most from Venezuela, have been living under a bridge or in cars near the entrance to Carbondale.
Voces Unidas/Courtesy photo

A group of about 80 unhoused Latinos were found living under a bridge in Carbondale on Saturday, according to a post from Voces Unidas de las Montañas — a Latino-created, Latino-led advocacy nonprofit in the central mountain region. 

The post on Voces Unidas’ website called on community to support the group, and announced that they, in partnership with the Office of Rep. Elizabeth Velasco (HD57), have begun to organize the group of 80 unhoused Latinos living in cars and under a bridge in Carbondale.   

“Last Saturday, we learned through social media and informal community channels that an estimated 40-plus Venezuelan immigrants were taking refuge below the Carbondale bridge along the Roaring Fork River with few resources and little support, resulting in an unexpected homelessness crisis and frequent negative interactions with local police,” the post states. “Our initial visit confirmed that the number of unhoused Latinos encamped near the Carbondale bridge is actually much higher. We also heard testimony about their experiences with local police and businesses, and learned that local government and nonprofits had not yet connected with this group to help support their needs.” 

On Sunday evening, Voces Unidas mobilized a rapid response team made up of staff and volunteers to conduct needs assessments for some 80 adults, according to the post. The data collected served to determine which area nonprofits, town officials, and state and federal agencies needed to be engaged in further conversation.

Group demographics

In total, 54 newcomers were surveyed out of the 80, and their responses were compiled in a “Basic Demographics” form by Voces Unidas. 

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The Information from the needs assessment shows that out of the 80 newcomers… 

  • 57% are under the age of 29, 42% are between the ages of 30-45 and only 1% are 46 years of age or older. 
  • 77.4% are men; 20.8% are women and the remainder identified as other. 
  • 72% arrived in Colorado before July 31, 2023; and 28% arrived after July 31, 2023. Of the 72%, 11% arrived in 2022. 
  • 96.3% are unhoused. Of the 96.3%, 76% sleep in a car, 16% sleep under the bridge, 4% sleep in hotels, and 4% sleep on the street. 
  • 66.7% have identification, while 33.3% do not. 
  • 87% have cell phones, and 36% have email accounts. 
  • 81.9% identify needing legal assistance. 
  • 34% indicated they have experienced cases of discrimination and negative treatment. 
  • 92% do not have stable work. 

On Tuesday, Voces Unidas and Rep. Velasco led a meeting with community leaders across Garfield County to share some of the data collected as part of their needs assessment. The meeting, held at Third Street Center in Carbondale, also served to give members of the unhoused group and community partners an opportunity to connect and share some of their challenges and resources, consecutively. 

Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, shared during the meeting that their data suggests the newcomers are primarily from Venezuela, with at least one person who is from Colombia. In addition, while there were once three children in the group, they are now in Denver “probably due to the lack of support,” according to Sanchez. 

Most of the newcomers came through Denver, and most have arrived within the last two weeks, although some have been here longer, according to Voces Unidas’ post. Data from the needs assessment states 67.3% qualify for the current extension to Temporary Protective Status being offered to Venezuelan immigrants, but all say they need legal counsel and support to confirm eligibility and complete the process. The other 21.2% said they are unsure if they qualify. 

“I want to elevate that, our brothers and sisters coming from Venezuela, this is a national issue. This is a crisis,” said Velasco during the meeting, who is also the co-chair of the Latino Caucus at the state level.

Velasco highlighted that the city of Denver has processed approximately 26,000 Venezuelans in the last two years, and she has been receiving briefings about the issue since 2022.

“We know that people move because they’re looking for opportunities, they’re looking for jobs,” Velasco said. “I don’t know many businesses that are not hiring, we need some workers. They will be an important part of our economy. But this is a crisis. … It’s going to take all of us together to respond to this crisis and to support our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.” 

Newcomers ask for aid from the 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.
Voces Unidas/Courtesy photo

Four Venezuelans forming part of the group of 80 volunteered themselves to represent the group in sharing the challenges they currently face and answering questions from the community. Sanchez said they have permitted for their first names to be used in the story.

“We spend all night running from one place to another. Many of us don’t have steady jobs, so it makes it difficult to find a place to stay,” said Edwin, one of the Venezuelan representatives, in Spanish, which has been translated into English by the Post Independent. “What we really want is to find a solution … if you could find a way to help us, we would thank you with our hearts.” 

Libia, another one of the four representatives, said in Spanish that they are not asking people to take them into their homes but to help bring their families to Colorado.

“We just want to work, get ahead, and to help our families with dignity,” she said. “There are many of us that want to fight for this, truly. Everything, with work, is possible.” 

“I don’t want to be a burden,” Libia added. “When one enters this country, one enters with nothing.” 

Libia spoke about how the cold has affected them. According to Sanchez, they’ve heard of some of the unhoused Latinos having acute respiratory infections. Some have also spoken to running fevers, headaches, and weather-related conditions like hypothermia. 

Asdrubal, the third of the representatives, said the group doesn’t want to be seen as an extra charge or a burden. Rather, they want to be seen and act as collaborators. 

“We’re also looking for someone to advise us on how to get a driver’s license, or an identification like the Colorado ID card, so that we can identify ourselves when the police stops us,” Carlos, the fourth representative, said in Spanish. 

According to the original post from Voces Unidas, “Several have had work opportunities, primarily as day laborers, either hired through an employment agency or recruited by private individuals. However, at least five people alleged wage theft when dealing with private individuals, and a handful of people reported having experienced discrimination or some other form of negative treatment since they arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

“I know how to do a lot of things. Whatever you give me, I’ll learn to do it quickly,” Libia said.

Short- and long-term solutions

Voces Unidas and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco are calling on community nonprofit and organizations to support the group of newcomers.
Voces Unidas/Courtesy photo

Based on the needs assessment and conversations with the newcomer community, Voces Unidas compiled a list of needs separated into immediate, short-term needs and long-term needs. 

“Urgent short-term needs include finding a stable place to park their cars without police removing them, along with the basic human needs of access to housing, access to food, and access to a job,” the post states. “Everyone at the encampment is seeking permanent housing options, however many need rental assistance and help identifying housing. Some who have found work opportunities said they have the financial resources to pay for housing but face challenges meeting the requirements for a lease, such as proof of income, rental history, and proof of residence.” 

In response to the situation, the town of Carbondale has put a temporary pause on their no-camping ordinance, which during the past few weeks has caused some of the newcomers to be displaced overnight, according to Sanchez. 

“(This is) until we come to long-term arrangements with the town of Carbondale,” Sanchez said. “We need obviously immediate shelter because it’s Colorado, winter’s coming, people will die under that bridge and under those conditions.” 

Additional immediate needs identified were warm clothing and blankets (could be climate adjusted sleeping bags), access to restrooms, showers, laundromats and hygiene products, legal assistance such as immigration attorneys for TPS support and guidance about IDs, and access to medical and mental health services. 

Long-term needs include more specific forms of medical and preventative care, education including English and/or GED classes, and banking help. Many also have families they wish to reunite with. 

While Voces Unidas were the ones to host and facilitate these discussions, they made it clear that it was the community’s role to holistically support and welcome the group of newcomers to their new homes. 

“As soon as we got word that there was a new community that was here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we knew we had to take action, but we also have to realize what our role was,” Alan Muñoz, regional organizing manager with Voces Unidas, said during the meeting. “As an advocacy organization, we don’t do services. We want to make sure that the community itself is able to advocate for themselves and we’re just giving our support.” 

Voces Unidas met with the town of Carbondale on Wednesday to continue their discussions.  

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