Guest Opinion

Growing To Equity
By Chloe Castaneda, Regis University student

I was about 8 when the first “Hunger Games” movie appeared in theaters. My parents went on a date night and watched it themselves to make sure my brother and I were old enough to handle the content. So, when we were finally allowed to watch it (of course, with hands covering my eyes at times), the setting seemed painstakingly outlandish.

The community that Katniss Everdeen lived in looked like a desert—filled with extreme poverty, anguish and more governmental control than a dictatorship. I never thought a government could allow its people to live so poorly. When the movie ended, I not only became grateful that my own country would never do such a thing, but I also asked myself, “What kind of government would thrive on the impoverishment of others?”

Twelve years later, pursuing a bachelor’s degree, I want to scream at my younger self and say, “Our country!” We live in a dystopian reality where the rich profit on the poor!”

For the longest time, I thought movies were supposed to be fictitious stories that only a mentally insane person could come up with. I realize now that I am the mentally insane one for believing that America would never do such a thing given our history. Thanks to my pursuit of learning, I better understand that Katniss Everdeen did not live in a fantastical storyline, but she probably could have grown up here in Denver, in a severely impoverished community that would otherwise be known as a food desert.

A food desert is an area with little to no access to grocery stores, and according to a report by the Colorado Health Institute, about 30% of Colorado’s census tracts are considered food deserts. This affects approximately 750,000 residents, and those in the food desert community constantly seek financial stability.

About 42% of food desert residents have low incomes, and in the state of Colorado alone about 553,272 people, or 11.1% of Colorado’s population, are in desperate need of financial support. On top of this, according to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, about 170,000 live more than 10 miles away from a grocery store.

As an aspiring civil attorney, I want to help bring light to this problem within our community, but I needed help to imagine where to begin. Thankfully, through my Peace and Justice classes at Regis University, I became familiar with a nonprofit organization called Growing Home. 

Growing Home provides food, housing and parenting education to those within the Northwest Denver community, hoping to grant lifelong stability for those who live in food deserts and below the poverty line. I had the privilege of working alongside their community organizing manager to interview community members about Growing Home and how the organization has affected them thus far.

Both members I talked to were tremendously grateful for the nonprofit and said they were given a chance to secure housing and financial stability when everything around them seemed upside down. The one issue they had was the inability to use affordable transportation. In the interviews, both members were undoubtedly grateful for the housing and help in finding an occupation. Still, they couldn’t fully take advantage of their new jobs because of the lack of transportation.

So, with the information presented to the organization, they decided to look into a free, on-demand shuttle service. The shuttle service will allow residents to call for a ride any time of the day and bring them to their desired destination. This would help members get to their jobs on time, see their loved ones more often, and improve their quality of life.
This idea is still in the works because Growing Home needs the finances and publicity to show that this is a big issue with a plausible solution. I encourage you, dear reader, to spread the word about Growing Home and their fight for an equitable transportation plan. If you can, please donate to growinghome.org/donate.


Raising Awareness about Less-Visible Population
By Eric Trujillo, Regis University student

Living in North Denver, just west of North High School, has many benefits. The community is very active, vibrant, offers many diverse and delicious foods along with plenty of amusing late-night activities.

More importantly, for me personally, is the six-minute daily commute I take north on Federal to Regis University for my classes. In the recent months all along my short commute I have noticed growing numbers of migrants and unhoused individuals around my route.

I began to take notes and saw many different levels of housing in my community, those unhoused, renting, and finally those who bought their homes. Unknown to me was an entire population of people who are in one of the biggest housing crises, seemingly unknown to the population: those living from their vehicles.

When I looked back at my notes, I discovered almost a sort of hierarchy in living accommodations within my community. At the bottom you have those living in the streets; slightly above them are those in homeless shelters or moving house to house with no positive housing options; next you have this population living within their vehicles; above them would be those renting; and finally at the top you have homeowners. This hierarchy gave me a better insight in my community, however I still didn’t fully understand the population living in their cars.

I began to research the topic and discovered that those living in their vehicles are a part of a wider nationwide issue known as “vehicular homelessness.” Since 2016, this population has increased 40% throughout the country.

In Colorado, studies have indicated that 30 to 40% of homeless people are living in cars. This means that a significant number of individuals are not highly publicized while abandoned in Denver streets in cramped, miserable conditions inside their cars.

Much of the media and government aid spotlights the visible unhoused population, with the vehicular homeless having to tiptoe around parking laws that restrict where they are able to park. Looking back at my hierarchy from earlier, this population has the ability to find positive sustainable housing but also are just as likely to end up in worse conditions. To us, a parking ticket is an annoyance, to them, a parking ticket could destroy their entire livelihood. Currently in Colorado, there are laws in place to deter these individuals from parking in safe areas.

That was when I came across the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative. This nonprofit organization works to provide safe, legal places for people living from their vehicles to shelter overnight. This organization uses parking lots in different communities throughout the Denver metro area to provide legal parking and services such as bathrooms, free meals, health care and resources to help find housing. Currently, with 13 parking lots and serving 110 individuals, the organization aids hundreds of unhoused individuals towards finding positive housing options.

I reached out to one lot located at the Lakewood United Methodist Church. The current overseer, Pastor Ben Hensley, explained the major differences from vehicular homelessness and other forms of being unhoused. The major takeaways were the high chances of the vehicular homeless population to be the elderly, retired, female, or have issues regarding physical or mental health.

Due to funding losses, the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative cannot expand or properly aid those in their program. The organization has lost the ability to fund a case manager to help sites like the Lakewood United Methodist Church. The organization has only been able to aid a third of those that need their help since starting in 2020 and could lose the ability to serve more in the future.

As a community we can step in, by either donating at their official website or pushing our local government to fund the organization. We can save a local population from falling further down the housing hierarchy.


Venezuelans in Denver
By Brianna Flores Chavez

You may have noticed people at our cross streets asking to clean your car windows as you wait for the lights to turn green. According to the Washington Examiner, Denver has received the most immigrants per capita in the nation, with over 40,000 arrivals since May 2023.

While their presence at intersections has only recently been noticed, Denver has been trying to accustom itself to providing housing and other resources for about a year in response to the rise of arrivals. A significant issue that Venezuelan immigrants have been facing is their inability to work because of the long wait for a work permit, or because they do not have a form of official identification. 

Over the past few weeks, fellow Regis students and I have talked to Venezuelan families to learn more about their journey to the United States and how they have navigated Denver. I have learned that these situations are much deeper than what we may think.

One woman told us that she graduated with a degree in business administration in Venezuela. Since arriving here, she has only been able to work for a total of three days cleaning houses. While she feels grateful for shelter and food, she has been unable to work or even open a bank account without her ID, which has been lost. Denver desperately needs national and local support to ensure success for our newcomers.

To shed some light on the severity, at the end of last year, Denver churches and hotels opened their doors to emergency shelter for some of the influx of migrants; however, we have not seen many long-term solutions. Months later, Denver has closed four emergency shelters to scale down the cost and focus its efforts on more long-term solutions. This left many families feeling uncertain, and when we asked Venezuelan families what they needed, many said all they needed or wanted was a job.

Work authorization for migrants is a federal-level issue. Denver Mayor Mike Johnston stated, “What we see is people here who want to work, people here who want to hire them, and a federal government who stood in the way.”

It is no secret that the country’s immigration system needs to be updated, and if we have new arrivals who want to work and employers who wish to hire them, we need to get them permission to do so. The urgency of this situation cannot be overstated. None of the adult immigrants we spoke with had a stream of income.

Denver’s newcomers arrive with little to no social network, and because of the widely accepted stigmas against them, they have little communal support. Nonprofits, community members and small city efforts have been working to their total capacity to do what they can. According to NBC News, the mayor’s political director was recorded telling a group of migrant families at a Denver shelter that the city has received too many immigrants and that families will struggle here if they stay.

We must shift these sentiments and support migrants. If you have read this far, I encourage you to do something about this. Let’s make our city a welcoming place.


Xenophobia and Newcomers to Denver
By Maria Sanchez, Regis University student

The city of Denver finds itself at the center of a complex immigration crisis, with a significant influx of migrants, particularly from Venezuela, causing considerable strain on city resources.

This sanctuary city has welcomed nearly 40,000 migrants in the past year, a sizable addition to its population of just over 710,000. As a result, the burden on local services has become a pressing issue that requires immediate action and collaboration from the community in Colorado. 

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has faced the challenge of balancing the needs of the city’s existing residents with those of newly arrived migrants. We often hear of his achievements and works he has in store for the future. The situation has led to a proposal of 15% budget cuts to city programs and agencies. Despite these efforts, the city continues to struggle to maintain support for incoming migrants, including providing shelter, food, education and assistance with asylum paperwork. 

But is the city as understanding and welcoming as it is painted to be? An embedded issue that many fail to address is the xenophobia that newcomers face not just from Denver’s residents, but from their community. 

When I first moved to Colorado, I was around 9 years old, and my family had recently migrated from Peru. While at Regis University, I have dedicated most of my research to complex subjects such as democratic backsliding, political violence and political fragmentation in Latin American countries. But when I was given the opportunity to work with the community partner West Colfax Lampstand, I knew this would allow me to explore further the consequences of nationalism and xenophobia.

The term nationalism, coined by scholar Johann Gottfried Herder, refers to the idea of a person’s loyalty to their nation. Xenophobia, in turn, often involves negative attitudes or discrimination against people from different countries or cultures. The correlation between nationalism and xenophobia is that when a group strongly identifies with a specific ethnic or cultural identity, they may view outsiders as a threat to their identity or interests. 

How do these terms relate to Denver? According to the Latino Leadership Institute, more than 100,000 Hispanic people are living in counties like Adams, Arapahoe and Denver. My family, despite living in the United States for over a decade, continues to watch news channels from back home to keep themselves updated with the political climate of the place we used to call home.

I will not assume other families do this, but the media from countries in Latin America continue to further this prejudice towards Venezuelan refugees. “They are criminals,” “They are lazy and want everything to be handed to them,” which resulted in many Latin American governments closing their borders and denying any government assistance. 

Feelings of nationalism will follow us where we go; we love representing who we are and where we come from. Cultures in Latin America are different from one another despite sharing similarities. We embrace our differences and are proud of our origins.

However, the dangers that follow are feelings of resentment and superiority. This stigma justifies different Hispanic groups to turn their backs and reject any efforts to build a community network for Venezuelan refugees. 

The journey from Venezuela to the U.S. is a difficult one, and many are seeking opportunities to get a job, give their children the opportunity to go to school, and simply live. Community efforts 

have played a crucial role in providing support to migrants.

Churches, nonprofits and residents offer housing, financial assistance and skills training. But as I got to know these families through West Colfax Lampstand, isolation and rejection continue to prevail in their efforts to build a sense of home and comfort.

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