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2010 Olympic development driving up homelessness in Vancouver

E-mail from to 2010WATCH, 14 12 06

I have been doing some filming for a documentary that will focus on Vancouver's 2010 Olympic Games. For the past month and a half we have been focusing on the issue of homelessness in the city.

It is estimated that there are over 1,200 people sleeping on the streets and this number is expected to triple by the time the Olympic Games takes place in February 2010.

Before the Games were awarded to Vancouver there was great concern that the Games would increase the numbers of homeless people. Many people had memories from 1986, when Vancouver hosted Expo 86, an international world event.

Many Single Room Occupancy Hotels evicted many of their long term clients in order to rent the rooms out at an increased rate. Some people died on the streets. In fact as part of its Inner-City Commitments the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee guarantees to:
Protect rental-housing stock to ensure no residents are displaced, evicted, made homeless or face unreasonable increases in rent as a result of the Games.

However what has been occurring is the exact opposite of what was promised and what many people had feared is now taking place. Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels have had their value driven up by the boom in real estate prices in Vancouver, fueled partly by the upcoming Olympics. They are being sold, the tenants evicted and being boarded up to await demolition or renovation.

For the former tenants in these rooms they are forced to eke out an existence on the streets and alleyways as there is no other affordable alternative especially if you are living on welfare with a $350 shelter allowance .

What has been the response of Government? Despite their large surplus the federal government refuses to shoulder their responsibilities to provide social housing that was abandoned in the Liberal budget cuts of the '90s. In fact the present Conservative government is continuing to cut social programs in order to deliver tax cuts.

The Provincial Government has a $2 billion surplus built on cuts to programs for the most disadvantaged but shows no desire to help the homeless. Mayor Sam Sullivan and his council after cutting the social and non-market housing aspects of the Olympic Village Project points the finger of blame at the senior levels of government.

In response activists in the Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest neighbourhood have adopted a program called "Buy it or Guard it" which targets government owned buildings which are squatted in an attempt to have them converted to social housing. So far three buildings have been targeted and the government's response has been a massive police repression and arrest of the squatters and their supporters.

The City is also in the process of discussing a proposal from Mayor Sam Sullivan called Project Civil City which calls for crack downs on open drug use, aggressive panhandling and increased by law enforcement. It will attempt to reduce homelessness by 50% by 2010. It plans to do this by lobbying the provincial and federal government.

This is similar to programs that operated in Sydney during the 2000 Games and in Atlanta in 1996 where homeless were removed from the scene in order to present a sanitary facade for visitors to the city during the Games. Although effective in cleaning up the city for the duration of the Olympic Games programs like Project Civil City offers little in concrete long term solutions.

Project Civil City, like the previous response by the city to recent actions by anti-poverty activists show that the only real solution the city has to the problem of poverty in Vancouver is using the police to repress the poor. When you see the city using over 40 fully equipped members of the riot squad to evict 8 activists from a squat you can see where their spending priorities lie.

What many people are questioning here in Vancouver's is the priorities of all three levels of government. How can we afford to spend billions of dollars on a seventeen day party when so many of our citizens live in abject poverty and have no roof over their heads? How can we spend billions on infrastructure for the Games when we face such major social issues like drug addiction?

Many activists question exactly whose interests are elected officials representing? It is certainly not those of the most vulnerable in our society.

Today the Vancouver City Council will be discussing the Mayor's Project Civil City. Anti poverty activists have planned to be there to respond. It should be an interesting meeting. posted to: 2010WATCH

See also: Displacement of Private tenants

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