Surprise, it’s not good

We’re really going to get it in the teeth down here, and we’re already seeing the signs,” says former high school teacher Marty Bernier, now homeless. For many Vancouverites, the 2010 Winter Games are an exciting and enjoyable event to look forward to. However, this event has posed many threats to the approximated 3,000 inhabitants of the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Many of us are guilty of ‘looking the other way’ when it comes to the issues and concerns of the ever-expanding homeless population. Since 2003, when Vancouver was determined to become the host of the 2010 Games, there have been numerous propositions to “clean up the streets of Vancouver.” These desires for gentrification have proven to be extremely detrimental to the citizens of the DTES.

Because Olympics cities normally try to create encouraging public relations images to the international media, extra security measures are often enforced to hide the potentially embarrassing inner-city poverty from the public eye. This has been proven during the past Olympic Games, notably in Seoul, Barcelona, and most recently in Beijing. All of these cities have imposed additional police forces and regulations in preparation for the Games. In the past 20 years, the Olympics have displaced more than two million people, mostly minorities of the homeless and poor. According to COHRE’s (the Geneva-based ‘Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions’) report Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights, the Beijing Olympics alone have displaced some 1.5 million people and the Seoul Games have displaced 720,000.

The recent extra security measures in Vancouver include the ever-increasing number of police in the DTES as well as the provincial government’s recently passed Assistance to Shelter Act. While this act may sound beneficial in its euphemistic name, it actually enables police officers to force homeless people into shelters. Although this may seem harmless on the surface, Bernier says “it’s really going to inhibit some rights from the [Canadian] Charter of Rights and Freedom, when [Canada] is supposed to be a democracy.” The Assistance to Shelter Act subtly infringes upon both the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Many homeless people are persistently told not to congregate, and since they hold virtually no power, they often lose these basic fundamental freedoms. Therefore, the BC government is essentially allowing the escalating number of idiotic, over- empowering, authority-craving police in the DTES (who are deemed equal with the homeless under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom) to take away some of the most important rights that concern the homeless.

Another potential problem resulting from the Olympics affecting the homeless of the DTES is the crowd that approaches with it. Since there will be an enormous abundance of tourists, many hotel owners in the DTES area may evict hotel occupants in order to renovate and provide room for tourists who are willing to pay up to 10 times the amount for the rooms. In one such case reported by the Vancouver Sun in early September 2009, owner Daniel Jun of the Golden Crown hotel evicted occupants because of “vermin-infested units.” It was later discovered that his intensions were to either “take advantage of the Olympic market or sell the property.”

Perhaps the only positive outcome of the 2010 Olympic Games towards the residents of the DTES is the fact that both the provincial and federal government have been pouring in exceptionally immense building funds towards shelters in their pathetic attempt to minimize the amount of homeless people in Vancouver. However, this act is “definitely not out of the goodness of their hearts”, Bernier remarks. “It’s funny how they haven’t really done anything about it [the homelessness situation] before.” Among others, Bernier worries that the funds will depart as soon as the Olympics do. This is definitely a likely case, as the BC government will no longer have need to worry about slighting Vancouver’s precious name after the Olympic Games are over. Like the all of the previous Olympic Games, as well as the Expo 86 World Trade Fair in Vancouver, the 2010 Olympics will most definitely leave devastating consequences for the city’s homeless and urban poor. “It’s just going to benefit the rich, like it always does,” concludes Bernier. If history repeats itself, the Games may result in a huge loss of low income housing, and the thousands of poor residents who have no secure residency will be ignored once again while the profits of biggest benefiters - the owners and developmental corporations - will be evidently prioritized.

//Mercedes Sargent

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