The urban-camping ban doesn't solve the Bumuda Triangle problem

Urban camping is now banned in Denver.

But the city's controversial new ordinance designed to cut down on the unpleasant problem of the homeless sleeping on sidewalks and along the 16th Street Mall doesn't solve the puzzle of Triangle Park — better known as the "Bumuda Triangle."

Back in the '20s, as out-of-work men started traveling the country, overnight camping was banned in all of Denver's city parks, including this tiny sliver at Park Avenue West and Lawrence, one of five triangular traffic islands created when Broadway cut through downtown almost a century ago as part of Mayor Robert Speer's City Beautiful project. Perhaps this spot was once beautiful, but for more than a year, the city has been trying to figure out what to do about the blight stuff at this corner, where the homeless who sleep at the Denver Rescue Mission across the street or the St. Francis Center around the corner or the Salvation Army around another corner or the Samaritan House up the street now hang out during the day, when the shelters are closed.

And although Denver City Council members managed to author, and approve, and even implement an urban-camping ban in a fraction of that time, Triangle Park remains a mess. The ban will only make it tougher to clean up, as service providers scramble to increase bed space; the Denver Rescue Mission is considering a project that would add 500 spots, for example, and other facilities are looking at all-night drop-in centers after the parks close at 11 p.m. and the homeless are pushed off the 16th Street Mall into outlying areas.

There are more than three sides to this triangle. "This is not really the way it was envisioned," a Denver Parks and Recreation official admitted last summer ("Bums' Rush," June 9, 2011). Six years ago, the city poured more than $300,000 into the park, turning a barren patch of dirt and asphalt into an elegant space named in honor of Edward J. "Eddie" Maestas, the unofficial Mayor of Larimer Street. Maestas always had a soft spot for the homeless, as well as the then-down-and-out area where he bought Johnnie's Market at 2030 Larimer Street in 1975; he never gave up on the people or the place, and fought to improve the lot of both. In recognition of his efforts, in November 2006 the Denver City Council okayed the renaming of Triangle Park by approving one of the longest ordinances ever presented to that group, a flowery ode to Maestas penned by urban planner Karle Seydel, the first director of the Larimer Square North Merchants' Association, who worked with Maestas to reclaim the neighborhood then known as NoDough.

Neither Maestas nor Seydel lived to see the neighborhood become one of the hottest areas in town, as expensive lofts and chic new restaurants moved in right next to the shelters and service providers. They didn't live to see the park return to its status as a dumping ground, where drug dealers prey on the homeless who hang out on the wall all day because they have nowhere else to sit, where city employees arrive at six every morning to tend to a patch of land that takes far more time to clean up than parks ten times its size, digging through the native grasses meant to deter loitering that now hide needles. The situation got so bad that Maestas's family asked that the sign in the park honoring Eddie be taken down. It was. But it's not as easy coming up with a solution.

At about the same time the city was starting to fix up Triangle Park — for the first time — Jon Schlegel bought the building at 2260 Larimer that was once the dance hall where Eddie Maestas met his wife, Helen. Schlegel turned it into Snooze, one of the first hip hangouts in this part of Denver. "Coming into the neighborhood, I knew our anchors were shelters and Coors Field," Schlegel recalls. "That's what makes a big city: co-existence." He learned a lot about co-existence living upstairs from the restaurant for the first eighteen months, and he and his partners and employees got used to washing the sidewalk every morning, escorting early customers past gangs of miscreants who always seemed to gather during the Denver Police Department's shift change. (The corner of Park and Broadway is responsible for more cop calls than any other spot in town.) He's worked with other businesses in the neighborhood to find a solution, but it remains elusive. "It's so weird that it gets so much more difficult," he says. "I feel that it's as dangerous as it ever was."

A year ago, the city signed a memorandum of understanding with the Denver Rescue Mission, which would have let that agency take over management of Triangle Park, essentially walling it off into an area where the homeless could congregate during the day but also be protected. Instead of sealing that deal, though, the city started looking at other possibilities, working with a group of stakeholders that included local businesses like Urban Market Partners, the Ballpark Neighborhood Association and nearby residents of Five Points and Curtis Park. "From my perspective, it's clearly not functioning as a park," says Lauri Dannemiller, manager of Denver Parks and Recreation. "We're discussing what other options are out there to get it back to a park."

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8 comments
Homobama
Homobama

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calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in the print edition, ideally with your full name/town (Bob Smith, I'm talking to you). Let me know if this is okay at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

Five Points Conservative
Five Points Conservative

The Urban camping ban has nothing to do with the actual homeless. It is to get the annoying OWS cry babies to stop trashing the park and harassing passers by.

Bob Smith
Bob Smith

"From my perspective, it's clearly not functioning as a park," says Lauri Dannemiller, manager of Denver Parks and Recreation. Thank you Patty, for running that quote - gave me my best laugh in quite a while. it's nice to know our bureaucrats are paying a little attention.

I wish the do-gooders and newly-come residents well. The same problems have existed in the same place for the 32 years I've lived here and beyond, and I suspect they'll continue well into the future.

I worked in the area in the 80s, at the Punch Bowl and a nearby, now defunct, repro shop on Stout. I walked past the park regularly, bought my huge handmade lunch sandwich from a small mom and pop grocery store/deli a couple of blocks away where the homeless who'd scored a few bucks came to get their sandwiches as well, patiently waiting in line.

This isn't the first time this part of town has had a bit of cool. 80s at the Punch Bowl had John Kane holding court on the law in the small upstairs room to a crowd of sycophantic young lawyers. The downstairs crowd included Federal Marshals, hip young architects and lawyers, bikers, Marine recruiters, construction guys, diesel dykes, some 17th St financial types, a few tourists checking out the painted booths and tin roof. The Triangle, right around the corner, was a busy gay bar that drew dance-loving straights. We played softball in a bar league at Sonny Lawson, and the homeless dudes fit right into the crowd - if most often downwind.

I can't remember any real efforts back then to clean it up, though. Like Schlegel said: co-existence. At least we had enough sense not to throw a bunch of desperate-for-work city planners at it. Maybe they ought to start up a softball league.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

The sign read: Edward "Eddie" Maestas" Park, also known a Seal Island to the Denver Police.Seal Island closes at 11:00 p.m.The seals and walrus depart from Seal Island destination 1200 block of Cracked Park Avenue West at closing time.Criminal Aliens migrate a safe following distance to the 1200 block of Cracked Park Avenue West; like clock-work.Under the cover of darkness criminal alien gang-bangers Suereno 13, La Mara Salvatrucha move in and distribute mega quantities of crack-cocaine between 11:15 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.

Stan
Stan

Can I get some acid from you?

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

Just legalize what?They got a police camera mounted on a utility pole.They sit underneath the police camera, smoke and sell crack.Legalize public corruption?Do you remember the Denver Bronco that was shot to death by gang-bangers after leaving a confrontation at one of Regas Christous Bars?The police recovered 2 kilos of cocaine.The biggest liar, most violent and corrupt cop on the Denver Police force, Commander John Lamb was allowed to remove the 2 kilos of cocaine from the evidence room and dispose of it by himself.Somebody is making money.The corrupt racist tyrant police commander John Lamb was trusted with disposing of two kilos of cocaine by himself rather than spending the rest of his natural life locked up in prison with a bunch of Crips and Bloods.That's what this is all about, mega quantities of crack-cocaine being sold under the police camera at Seal Island: The corrupt police commander John Lamb is free rather than sitting in prison.

 
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