Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Time for St. Louis to Import Homeless Diamond from Denver

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Time for St. Louis to Import Homeless Diamond from Denver

Article excerpt

Like many small neighborhood parks in St. Louis, Loretta Hall Park could use a little love and attention.

Situated in the Carr Square neighborhood, south of Carr Street and west of 14th Street, the park has all the basics a local kid would want. It's got a playground and basketball courts, a softball field with a backstop and plenty of open space to run around. The city is even building a roller rink with the help of a capital improvement fund controlled by Alderman Tamika Hubbard.

The concrete pad is down and railings are up.

But the ball field has seen better days. Weeds and grass invade the infield, which doesn't seem to have seen a rake in years. The outfield is more weeds than grass. The dugout benches sag and are weathered.

In a city that has a soul for baseball, it's a travesty.

But it's also an opportunity.

Loretta Hall Park sits a block west of the city's new Biddle House homeless shelter, and just east of the homes that will be among the closest to its new neighbors. Homeless men and women aren't strangers to the park. Various church ministries have fed them there previously. The bus stop the homeless will use to get from their new shelter to various city services is at the corner of the park.

The process of opening Biddle House now scheduled for Aug. 8 has been a political mess. That's not unusual for homeless shelters. No neighborhood welcomes them with open arms. The Carr Square Tenant Association, which represents a mostly African-American neighborhood, has been critical of Mayor Francis Slay for listening to downtown residents and developers who complain about the homeless and foisting them a little farther north upon a neighborhood that is already economically struggling. The neighbors have found a new ally in Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who previously backed Biddle House but is always up for a fight with his nemesis Slay.

The homeless, of course, don't care about such things.

They want a meal. Some shelter. Some help getting back on their feet.

And one other thing that doesn't get mentioned often enough.

Simple dignity. The recognition that they are human. This is where Loretta Hall Park comes in.

Six years ago, my father, Frank Messenger, became involved with an experiment in Denver designed to bring a weekly moment of dignity to the homeless population in Denver. It's called Homeless Diamond. Started by my father's friend, Joe Carabello, the program is simple. From May to August every Tuesday morning, a group of volunteers, many of them retired teachers and coaches like my father, play softball for a couple of hours with homeless men and women. They coach and do drills. They play games and provide lunch when the games are over.

Before the season, volunteers deliver donated gloves and softballs to the various shelters with times and location for the games written down. …

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