Homeless women in Denver: Struggles of an undocumented immigrant seeking shelter

Erica and Stefanie, Gathering Place.jpg
Big photos below.
In September, Erica Guzman, twenty, and Stefanie Cardwell, 23, spent nights sleeping in their car. The two women, who have been dating for four years, say they had nowhere else to go. The search for shelter is especially difficult for Guzman, an undocumented Canadian immigrant. We spoke to the couple for this week's feature, "Bed Check" -- and here, we take a closer look at their daily battles and the circumstances that led them to homelessness.

The two women spend a lot of their time at the Gathering Place, a daytime center for women that offers a wide range of services and helps connect them to other programs and night-time shelters. The organization sees around 1,600 different women each month.

Erica Guzman and Stefanie Cardwell, the Gathering Place.jpg
Sam Levin
Erica Guzman, left, and Stefanie Cardwell, at the Gathering Place in October.
After nights where they were forced to sleep outside in a car, the couple eventually found the Gathering Place, which helped connect them to emergency beds at the Delores Project, a Denver shelter exclusively for women.

Both Guzman and Cardwell have strained relationships with their families, which is partly why they are now without homes and spend a lot of time during the week trying to secure a safe place to sleep indoors.

Guzman was born in Canada but has lived in the United States for around eighteen years -- enough time to qualify for the Obama administration's deferred action initiative, which allows young undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents to avoid deportation and get work permits. The policy is similar to the failed DREAM Act; it doesn't provide legal status for these undocumented immigrants, but puts off possible deportation for up to two years.

Beyond the struggle to find a bed, Guzman's priority is working on the application she needs to submit to get identification and avoid deportation.

"I can work, go to school, get scholarships and then attorneys can help me get permanent residence," says Guzman, who lived in Alabama before she came to Denver. "I feel like everything will fall into place."

In the meantime, though, she has to devote most of her energy and resources to attorneys helping her through the process.

"It's very stressful," she says. " attorney knows how motivated I am."

Twice a week, Guzman and Cardwell have to enter a lottery run out of the Gathering Place to secure spots for the next half-week at the Delores Project. Before that shelter began its wintertime overflow with additional beds, they would regularly lose the lottery, a process described in detail in our print feature. In these instances, they are forced to call the Delores Project directly several hours after the lottery results are announced and see if there are any additional beds available beyond the ones the shelter sets aside for women at the Gathering Place.

"If I get a bed and she doesn't, then we have to sleep in the car," Cardwell says. "If she doesn't get in, I'll give up my bed.... I'm more worried about her. If she can't get in to Delores, then I won't go."

Continue for more of our interview with Erica Guzman and Stefanie Cardwell.

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