Mayor Says Increased Sweeps Not Connected to All-Star Game

There have been lots of fireworks over the All-Star Game moving to Coors Field.
There have been lots of fireworks over the All-Star Game moving to Coors Field. Evan Semón Photography
The city's recent increase in homeless encampment sweeps "is not connected to the All-Star Game," Mayor Michael Hancock said at a June 30 gathering outside of a new homeless shelter for women at 4600 East 48th Avenue, where he announced Denver's updated homelessness plan as the city recovers from the pandemic.

Denver does have "more encampments" right now, Hancock added, and that's why it's been performing "more cleanups."

Denver could have as many as 1,500 people experiencing unsheltered homelessness right now, city officials estimate. Hundreds of those people live in tents in the area around Coors Field and in surrounding neighborhoods.

On April 2, Major League Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred announced that the 2021 All-Star Game would no longer be held in Atlanta; instead, it was moving to Denver, where the game will take place July 13.

In the run-up to the game, the MLB and the Colorado Rockies will host numerous events around Denver, including the MLB Draft and the Home Run Derby. While many of the areas around the venues that will host those events now hold homeless encampments, John Parvensky, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, doesn't think the current sweeps are related to the MLB activities. "I don’t see that as the main motivating force from the city," he says. "I think they respond to neighborhood complaints, they respond to their own visual observations."

And Evan Dreyer, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, notes that while the city has been conducting two or three sweeps per week lately, that's right in line with the rate at which it was clearing encampments before a pause of a few months at the start of the pandemic.

The City of Denver has had an urban-camping ban on the books since 2012 that is often used to justify the clearing of homeless encampments. But the city also cites laws related to the public right-of-way and public health and safety when performing sweeps.

The Hancock administration has been firm in its support for the camping ban. "Unsanctioned encampments are not an option," Hancock said at the June 30 gathering. "House keys have more power to change lives than a tent."

Still, the city is currently supporting safe-camping sites, supervised facilities with sturdy tents, and easy access to housing and placement services, as well as health care. After initially opposing the concept, Hancock approved the establishment of safe-camping sites in July 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason that he was authorizing the sites. In December 2020, local nonprofit service providers set up two sites — one outside a church in Capitol Hill, another next to a church in Uptown.

The leases for those sites ran out at the end of May, and the Colorado Village Collaborative, one of the non-profits that led the push to set up safe-camping sites, has now established two replacement sites on the campus of Regis University and another next to the Park Hill United Methodist Church. The two locations, with leases that run through the end of the year, have a combined capacity of 100.

Compared to unsanctioned encampments, safe-camping sites are the "most humane approach," Hancock says.

According to Britta Fisher, the city's chief housing officer, Denver is looking at scaling up the safe-camping site program but has encountered hurdles. "I think there's two big constraints here: properties that are willing to have the use, and the other is the staffing and capacity of our partners to manage that," she says.

The Colorado Village Collaborative is ready to take on more sites, and hopes to increase the safe-camping site capacity by the end of the year. And Cole Chandler, the organization's director, wants to create safe-camping sites that are more long-term, rather than ones that operate on half-year leases.

"I think part of my pitch to landowners is, 'Let's commit to this through the end of 2023,'" he says. "It's brain damage to move the sites all the time."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.