It’s widely known by now that migrants from Venezuela are arriving by the day to the Valley, and more specifically Carbondale. The Sopris Sun delivers this report to fill in some of the cracks of an already heavily publicized issue.
For about 10 years there has been an ongoing migration from Venezuela. Many readers likely recall the international coverage of mass protests that were forcibly quelled by then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and later his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro is still in power after his reelection in 2018, the legitimacy of which divided the country, with the military remaining favorable to him. The economy succumbed to strict foreign currency laws and sanctions from international governments, including the United States.
“Since 2005, the United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan individuals and entities that have engaged in criminal, antidemocratic, and/or corrupt actions,” reads a report from the Congressional Research Service, updated on Nov. 1. “The Trump Administration expanded the scope of U.S. sanctions … Despite those sanctions, which were associated with an economic collapse that has led 7.7 million Venezuelans to flee the country, Maduro consolidated power.”
According to the Colorado Sun, in Denver about 5,500, of the nearly 26,000 Venezuelan migrants who arrived there, still reside in the city.
Here in Carbondale, by press time, it’s estimated that more than 100 have arrived and are without housing. About 50 are staying in a makeshift shelter in town that can accommodate 60 at most. Voces would rather that the specific location not be publicized for security reasons. “Our organization receives lots of messages, including threats,” Voces Unidas President Alex Sanchez told The Sopris Sun, “and the topic of immigration is a very toxic issue, especially in Garfield County.”
The stay will certainly be quick as the facility does not have adequate resources for their bare necessities, namely showers and kitchen space. Therefore, the question is, where will they go next?
It’s a problem no one was expecting locally, but the community has put its best foot forward to learn as it goes.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, Voces, along with State Representative Elizabeth Velasco, met the displaced people where many were staying, under and around the Veterans’ Bridge on Highway 133. Voces helped organize a leadership committee from within the group, consisting of nine members and alternates, then coordinated meetings between the committee and the town of Carbondale. Fifteen area nonprofits also rallied to provide immediate essentials.
Sanchez relayed that he learned from the unhoused group that the police had allegedly been coming twice a day “to remove them from the parking lot.” Later, the leadership committee met with the Carbondale Police Department (CPD) and town staff. Voces was grateful that CPD suspended enforcement of the town’s camping ban at that time.
“We started making contact with a few of our new neighbors about three weeks ago,” CPD Chief Kirk Wilson told The Sopris Sun. “At first, it was maybe 10-15 people,” but that number grew rapidly.
“We have agreed to temporarily not enforce the camping ordinance in town,” Wilson confirmed. “We are planning to have a meeting where Officer Lazo and Officer Mendoza [both bilingual] will inform them of some of the issues that may affect their day to day lives … like trespass, how to get a driver’s license and register vehicles, the need for car insurance and other related ordinances and laws.”
Immediately, the town is helping to look for better shelter options, and is reaching out for support from neighboring jurisdictions and philanthropic organizations.
Community member Sarah Johnson shared an email she sent to her Church’s parish, suggesting that churches could be better equipped to serve as temporary, but longer-term, shelters.
Voces has identified at least six child arrivals, who have been temporarily housed.
People, of course, consider the impact on the housing crisis the region is already undergoing. There isn’t any excess capacity, Carbondale Trustee Colin Laird expressed. He added that that is not unique, and that Denver is overwhelmed as well.
He noted the work Carbondale (along with the West Mountain Regional Housing Coalition) has done to address housing needs, but recognized that much more has yet to be done.
“There is no concern that we are going to lose our focus on this,” he assured, when it comes to housing in general. “But, this is an immediate need, especially considering it’s winter,” referring to the current situation as a humanitarian issue.
Learning along the way
Laird reflected on how the Valley has been somewhat insulated from national and international pressures, for instance, how the financial crisis hit here later than the rest of the country. He added that it was COVID that made people realize how connected we are to the larger world. “This is another reminder about how connected we are,” he stated.
The region has a lot to learn from this experience, he continued, and — acknowledging that it could likely continue — can set itself up to be better prepared in the future.
“We hope that we as a region, as the Roaring Fork Valley, start to think about longer-term processes and how to respond to these needs,” added Sanchez. “Because, as we have seen in Denver and Aurora, this can increase in scale pretty quick.”
Irene Wittrock, with Voces, is working as the boots-on-the-ground makeshift shelter coordinator. She has not had a break. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, in an interview, she said that 20 more people arrived from Denver the night before. She noted that among the arrivals, capacity concerns are clear.
Cots lined the large room and everyone was chipping in to prepare for a meeting that evening. Agenda items for the meeting included setting some ground rules, such as a 10pm curfew, and asking the newcomers not to tell their friends and families in Denver, or elsewhere, to come to Carbondale.
Wittrock said that they feel safe in the makeshift shelter, but added, “This week they can stay here, next week we don’t know.”
Photo by Klaus Kocher
Asdrubal Alvarodo, 29, serves on the leadership committee. He is from Calabozo, Guarico in Venezuela. He studied engineering at a public university associated with the armed forces. After an extremely long and arduous journey, he crossed the U.S. border at El Paso in June. He was not trying to be deceitful and went straight to the authorities, who transported him to a prison in New Mexico where he was held for three months. Before he was released he had to prove a “credible fear” of returning to Venezuela in order to stay in the U.S. His family is still in Venezuela and he hopes to support them from afar.
Libia Guzman is from Maracay, Aragua and identifies with the LGBTQ+ community. She said it took her one year to get to the U.S. after leaving Venezuela. She and her life partner, who are raising three children together, secured housing for their family in Aspen, but only for two weeks. She said that life in Venezuela is especially hard for gay citizens, and she is in search of “another life.”
Refer to the Carbondale Report on page 7 for coverage of the town trustees related discussion at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
For those who wish to learn more about how to help the unhoused individuals, visit