When the Ballpark Neighborhood Association announces its "Neighbor of the Year" on November 13, it's a cinch that Mayor Michael Hancock won't be winning top honors. In fact, he'll be lucky to get an invitation. The neighborhood group of residents and businesspeople around Coors Field have been trying to talk with the city for months about how "gravely concerned" the BPNA is regarding plans for a new 24-hour facility adjacent to the Denver Rescue Mission, right in the heart of the Ballpark neighborhood. "We want to make it clear to the city that we are strongly and uniformly opposed to any new or expanded social services in our neighborhood, which already bears more than its fair share of homeless services," the BPNA board wrote in July. But so far, it's struck out with the city.
And more services are coming.
Those services were part of the promise that helped push through the ban on urban camping back in May 2012, a ban that prohibited the homeless from sleeping on the mall or in other public places — even though the city has fewer shelter beds today than when the ten-year plan to end homelessness began in 2005, and the overflow has spilled out around the service providers in the Ballpark neighborhood. With cold weather here, the city has already put its emergency shelters on call, and now it's proposing to add some of those additional services using TIFF funds allocated to other projects years ago.
The signs of the changes are already here.
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On November 1, a triangle of land at Broadway, Lawrence and Larimer streets, right across from the Denver Rescue Mission, was fenced off, with a banner proclaiming "The park is closed for now, but we're planting a brand-new Denver Urban Garden community and a fresh start for Triangle Park. Sprouting in Spring 2014!"
High hopes have sprouted for this patch of land before. In November 2006, after a $300,000 renovation job that installed low-maintenance plants, easily hosed-off pavement and benches where you could sit, not sleep, it was named Edward J. "Eddie" Maestas Park, after a longtime businessman and good Samaritan who'd fought hard for the stretch of upper Larimer he dubbed NoDo. "I see nothing but good for this area," he said back in 1997, two years after Coors Field opened and shortly before he passed away.
But he could never have envisioned this. Even as the area became more and more affluent, filled with restaurants and pricey apartments, people who preyed on the homeless turned the park into a black hole more commonly called the Bumuda Triangle. The place became such a mess that in 2011, Maestas's family asked that his name be taken off of it. The city did, and started looking for another solution for Triangle Park — even considering handing the property over to the Denver Rescue Mission to use as a staging ground. "After considerable monitoring, city departments and partners have concluded that the majority population consistently in Triangle Park is not homeless seeking services, but those who are participating in illegal activities and preying on the vulnerable populations in this area," says Amber Miller, spokeswoman for the mayor. And so, after more than two years of meetings with other community groups, the city finally approved a plan to turn Triangle Park into a community garden. A fenced community garden.
If only it were as easy to fence off the rest of the neighborhood's problems. As the BPNA would tell the mayor — if they could ever get that meeting with him — it's time for other parts of the city to share the burden. To be the Neighbor of the Year.