Carnegie Theatre to stage Poverty Olympics

Long-time antipoverty activist Jean Swanson told the Straight she “never really had any confidence or faith” in the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.

So she is one of the organizers behind an Olympics-style event with a twist: the Poverty Olympics. Spectators can come to Carnegie Theatre (401 Main Street) and check out the poverty-line high jump, the welfare hurdles, and a “broad jump across a bedbug-infested mattress”. Swanson is a coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project, a sponsor of the event next Sunday (February 3), from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and she is also involved with the Raise the Rates Coalition.

“We want to be able to put some pressure on the government to do something about welfare, housing, and minimum wage,” Swanson said by phone. “It has been hard lately, not so much with housing, but there has not been much interest with the other things. So we thought we would do this.” Swanson promised to e-mail international media to “show the world coming to the Olympics what the real poverty situation in Vancouver is”.

CCAP community organizer Wendy Pedersen handed out Poverty Olympics posters at the Coal Harbour Community Centre on January 13, where she told the Straight that other organizations behind the event include the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Streams of Justice, and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

Pedersen mentioned the Poverty Olympics when former Vancouver city planner Kris Olds lectured at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus on January 21 on housing rights.

Swanson quipped: “The Olympics are going to have mascots, so we are going to have mascots. They are not going to be made in China, and they are not going to be contortions of aboriginal stuff. We have Itchy, and you’ll have to come to find out the other two. Itchy is a bedbug.”

Swanson also had three quick requests for Premier Gordon Campbell: “Build thousands of units of housing, raise welfare rates, and end barriers to getting on welfare.”