Denver, CO

All-Star game thrusts homelessness onto national stage

David Heitz

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Homelessness has become as all-American as baseball.

Homelessness is an epidemic in many of the nation’s cities. Now the Major League Baseball All-Star game is about to thrust Denver’s homeless problem onto a national stage.

Baseball fans, there’s no missing Denver’s homelessness crisis. Once you leave the airport terminal, you’ll find the encampments. They’ll be everywhere you go downtown Denver. You’ll find yourself stepping over tents now and then.

Many years ago, Larimer Street, not far from Rockies Stadium, was Denver’s Skid Row. Now it’s a collection of upscale shops.

But when baseball enthusiasts file into the Mile-High City for the big game in July, chances are the homeless encampments will make a bigger impression than elite boutiques.

It’s unlikely small talk during the big game will turn to Denver’s homelessness population. “You know, Denver is home to 4,171 homeless people, how about that!” That’s not the kind of chatter that makes people happy. More likely fans will be discussing how home runs go further in Denver’s thin air and high altitude.

But there will be no escaping the massive homeless problem in Denver. It’s everywhere. Advocates for Denver’s homeless say the city has doubled its “cleanup” efforts of homeless encampments ahead of the big game. A group called Denver Homeless Out Loud meticulously tracks every disruptive homeless sweep by the city and televises them live on Facebook.

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Photo/Homeless Out Loud

The sweeps often are characterized by giant backhoes plowing away people’s belongings in one fell swoop. Hollywood chose exactly that image Wednesday during a scene of “Chicago Fire.”

‘Chicago Fire’ brings home homelessness

There had been a fire in a homeless encampment on Wednesday’s episode of the show. One man had been seriously injured in the fire and then died. The plot line started off rather predictably, with a homeless person as the prime suspect of the arson.

When firefighters arrived to inspect the scene, they found a backhoe ready to bulldoze the encampment. The firefighters chided the city maintenance worker, who refused to let the firefighters search the scene. The maintenance worker said he has orders to sweep away the encampment, so that’s what he did, evidence at all.

At the story progresses, a key piece of evidence shows up. Then another key piece of evidence is uncovered. Before you know it, the police are arresting a wealthy neighbor for setting fire to the encampment. You get to see them cuff the guy.

Many have speculated the city’s homeless sweeps are increasing in advance of the big All-Star Game. Some say the city is trying to hide the sore thumb that is homelessness.

In fact, Denver Homeless Out Loud has gone so far as to contact Major League Baseball about the sweeps.

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Tweet courtesy Homeless Out Loud

Major League Baseball alerted to homeless neglect

A representative of Denver Homeless Out Loud contacted Major League Baseball to let them know how Denver treats its homeless. The thought was if Major League Baseball will move the game for alleged racism, maybe it will move it for discrimination against people experiencing homelessness, too.

But Major League Baseball did not return the telephone call of a representative of Homeless Out Loud.

An opinion piece in USA Today suggested the All-Star Game should be moved again, from Coors Field in Denver to Washington, D.C.

“Moving the game to Denver was a missed opportunity,” the newspaper reported. “Unlike Georgia, where the Republican governor recently signed a law that will make it harder for residents to vote, particularly if they are African Americans in urban areas, the District of Columbia seeks the most basic of rights granted to citizens of each of the 50 states. That is the right to be fully represented with a voting member of the House of Representatives and two duly elected senators.”

But how does Washington, D.C. treat people experiencing homelessness? According to The Washington Post, “The total number of homeless people declined (this year) from 6,380 to 5,111 … as the number of homeless families fell from 768 to 405. The number of unsheltered veterans fell from 309 to 187.”

In other words, at first glance Washington is doing a better job addressing homelessness than Denver. In Denver, homeless numbers are going up.

If we’re going to politicize baseball, we may as well do the same with homelessness, the other national problem nobody wants to talk about.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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