DENVER – Ahead of the Major League Baseball All-Star game in Denver next week, city officials are under close scrutiny from attorneys who accuse them of speeding up the cleanup of homeless settlements near of Coors Field as the sports world turns its attention to Colorado’s capital.
Mayor Michael Hancock has categorically denied that the All-Star Game influenced cleanup decisions, saying the city was only catching up after suspending cleanups at the start of the pandemic. He resumed regular cleanings last summer.
In Portland, a sprawling homeless camp was emptied in June after organizers of the Portland Classic, Oregon’s largest annual golf event, expressed safety concerns. The tournament pulled out of Portland and moved to a suburb.
The mayor of Denver said authorities knew before the city was chosen as the All-Star host that it was facing a big cleanup effort, with more encampments than ever before.
During clean-ups, also called “sweeps” for the homeless, camps are fenced in and people living in tents are asked to pack their bags and leave so the area can be cleaned up.
In March, just before Denver was chosen as alternate host – Major League Baseball pulled him out of Atlanta in April due to objections to Georgia’s voting law that critics condemned as being too restrictive – data shows sweeps have increased, with cleanings taking place over nine days. The previous peak over the past year was eight days, in October.
But sweeps increased further in May and June with 17 scheduled cleanings taking 22 days, 11 days per month with two or three days of cleaning per week, according to public records obtained by The Associated Press, which were first reported. times from Denverite, an online media that covers the city.
The city carried out sweeps for 17 weeks directly from early March to late June, an unprecedented sequence in any other period, according to cleanup advisories provided to city councilors since December 2019.
The city was doing two or three cleanings a week before the pandemic started and has returned to that rate, said Evan Dreyer, Hancock’s deputy chief of staff.
The city’s position is misleading, said Ana Cornelius, organizer of Denver Homeless Out Loud, who believes the city has targeted its cleanups to drive out the homeless ahead of the All-Star Game. As the city cleared one encampment at a time, it turned to multi-day operations – targeting four or five encampments in a larger area, dramatically increasing the number of people evicted, she said.
People forced to leave an encampment near the stadium last week were told they could travel to another camp about 2.5 km away and would be safe there until August, she said. declared.
Patrick Shields, an army veteran who served in Afghanistan, was among those forced to pick up and leave during a recent sweep on a grass runway outside an office building about 2.5 miles away of Coors Field. Shields, who has been on the streets for eight months after being released from prison, was upset that he and the residents he considered family had been forced to move out, when it would be cheaper to help them stay at home. same place.
“We have no hope, no direction because of situations like this,” he said.
The number of homeless people in the United States increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2020 based on a tally taken before the onset of the pandemic, according to an annual report from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. And the housing crisis was only exacerbated by the pandemic when many jobs were lost.
Downtown Denver is very different from the midst of the pandemic in 2020. The tents used by the homeless that lined the streets near closed restaurants and shops are now gone, businesses have reopened, and pedestrians roam the streets. streets.
David Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver, is uncertain what role the All-Star Game has played in Denver’s ongoing work on homelessness, but said he was common that cities want to clean up and ensure visitors have positive experiences.
“Anytime there’s a massive influx of people… it’s an opportunity to build a brand and create an impression: Denver is an amazing place to live and visit,” Corsun said.
– The Associated Press