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Denver draws backlash over opening day preparations

Apr 03, 2023

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While many Major League Baseball fans celebrated opening day and the return of “America’s Pastime” on March 30, the Colorado Rockies are dealing with controversy before their upcoming first pitch at home. As part of preparations for the Rockies opener on April 6, the city of Denver initiated the removal of homeless encampments near Coors Field in a move that has been met with criticism from local advocacy groups.

“It’s disgraceful, and they’re not trying to solve the problem,” Grant Francis said. Francis is with the homeless advocacy group Mutual Aid Monday, which provides meals every Monday night to those experiencing homelessness. “They’re just trying to provide some optics that make it look like they’re trying to do something.”

This is not the first time that Denver has drawn criticism for conducting sweeps of homeless camps ahead of major sporting events. According to The Denver Post, in 2021 the city cleared out more encampments over six months than it did through all of 2020, with this uptick in homeless sweeps coming as Denver was preparing to host that season’s MLB All-Star Game.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Coors Field is one of the targets,” Francis said. “It’s anywhere where there’s an event that generates any kind of income for the city.”

The city completed 51 sweeps of homeless camps during the lead-up to these All-Star festivities, compared to 49 during the year prior. As the game approached, Denver picked up its pace to 10 sweeps per month in April, May and June, just before the Midsummer Classic came to town in July. This practice brought protests from local homeless advocates at the time, and now the city is facing renewed complaints from the public over this latest round of sweeps.

“Our city policy never changes,” Matthew Wilmes, encampment program response executive with the Denver city government, said. “Of the 10 large encumbrance removals that we’ve done in the last month, two of them were in the ballpark area. And the reason for that is they were some of the largest that we were dealing with.”

A 2021 study by the Common Sense Institute in collaboration with researchers at the University of Colorado Denver estimated the city spent more than $100,000 per homeless person per year. However, activists are calling on lawmakers to ensure that money goes towards more housing opportunities and stop the removal of homeless people from their camps.

“We all know sweeps don’t work, moving a tent across a border, pretending we solved someone’s problem, it doesn’t work,” Denver mayoral candidate Kelly Brough said. “We need to house and shelter people.”

Meanwhile, within the Rockies organization — attempts are being made to combat local homelessness. Relief pitcher Daniel Bard has been involved with Amp the Cause, an organization raising funds for Colorado nonprofits, and the team has partnered with the Denver Rescue Mission to hold food drives that aim to address food insecurity within the city.

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