HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

After an unexpected arrival, over 20 Venezuelan refugees found help in Salt Lake City

Jan 12, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: Jan 13, 2023, 7:48 am
men line up at rescue mission of salt lake, who just helped several Venezuelan refugee men...
Men stand in line to eat dinner at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As a refugee resettlement city, Salt Lake City opens its doors and its arms all the time to people fleeing their troubled homelands. This winter, a busload of refugees from Venezuela arrived in the middle of the night.

On 400 South, a yellow brick building stands close to Pioneer Park. There’s a red staircase that leads to a red door.

It’s the entrance to the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake. Just above it, there’s a faded cross that reads “Jesus saves” in neon lights.

The political climate in Venezuela has for a long time been toxic, which has led to a large number of people fleeing the country to find asylum in the United States.

Don Nicholson, the emergency services director of the mission, told KSL NewsRadio about a night about three months ago, when 20 to 30 young Venezuelan men showed up seeking shelter.

Dozens of Venezuelan refugees arrive

“Well, I was in my room rescue when I got the call. And someone said, ‘we’ve got a ton of refugees.’ So I came down,” Nicholson said.

The unexpected arrivals posed a challenge, with there being a limited amount of space in the shelter.

“But luckily, the weather was good enough when the weather is good enough, a lot of time our regular guys will stay out in camps. And so when they showed up, we actually had room for everyone. We had enough beds and enough overflow to take care of that,” Nicholson said.

So what was their story? Where did that bus come from?

The answer wasn’t entirely clear, according to Nicholson, because of the language barrier.

“They all came in one bus, basically, and were dropped off. Our communication was really at a very all-time low, especially that night,” Nicholson said, adding that he had to use Google Translate. “I have a couple of people that stay here as guests that do speak Spanish –are bilingual. And when I have them, they would help us out.

Assisting the men

The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake has been operating since 1972, helping men who have hit hard times.

Steve Spiess is a job placement coordinator and counselor with the shelter. He helped the group of men gain employment.

“That’s an interesting challenge for us, facing both a language barrier and an unexpected influx of people at the same time, trying to help people find jobs.”

But the men were motivated and independent, and the experience went well.

“We helped them get what they needed: work boots and clothes and a place to stay,” Spiess said, adding, “After giving them job leads, the next day they’ve got a job, they’re out working and we see them leave first thing in the morning and they’re back late at night. Every day.”

Almost all the Venezuelan refugees that arrived at Rescue Mission of Salt Lake have now moved on with jobs and houses

Related: What refugee liaisons have learned from the students they serve

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After an unexpected arrival, over 20 Venezuelan refugees found help in Salt Lake City