Five days before the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, community groups will stage a protest event designed to internationally embarrass the Canadian, B.C., and city governments into addressing poverty.
The 2010 Poverty Olympics, the third edition of the annual street-theatre event, will take place on February 7 at the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall (487 Alexander Street) in the Downtown Eastside.
On Sunday (January 17) at 1 p.m., the first-ever provincewide Poverty Olympics torch relay will kick off with an event at the Olympic countdown clock by the Vancouver Art Gallery.
February’s opening ceremonies and games will feature a singing of the Poverty Anthem, sporting events (Welfare Hurdles and Skating Around Poverty), mascots (Itchy the Bedbug, Creepy the Cockroach, and Chewy the Rat), and the "Bad Guys" (Mr. Bid and Mr. Con Dough).
In a letter on the event’s Web site, the Poverty Olympics organizing committee warns Olympic visitors that they won’t be able to avoid seeing thousands of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets.
"Unless we do something about this shameful situation, visitors in 2010 will be treated to a city with more homeless people than athletes competing in the Games!" the letter states.
"Grinding poverty and growing homelessness are happening despite some bold promises to create a positive Olympic legacy — promises such as building more social housing, reducing homelessness, and not displacing poor people to make way for Olympics-driven development."
The letter adds that organizers have asked the International Olympic Committee to make the Poverty Olympics an official part of the Games.
"We hope that shining the international spotlight on the dark side of our prosperous city and province might finally convince our governments to take action," the letter says.
According to the Poverty Olympics site, there are 10,000 homeless people across British Columbia, including more than 2,000 in Metro Vancouver.
A report—prepared by a University of British Columbia research team for the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee and released in December 2009—found that homelessness more than doubled in Vancouver between 2002 and 2008.
The Poverty Olympics site calls the province "a gold medalist when it comes to poverty". B.C. has posted the worst child-poverty rate for six straight years.
Organizers are demanding the provincial government increase welfare rates by 50 percent and index them to inflation, the federal government create and fund a national housing strategy, and the City of Vancouver establish a moratorium on the conversion and closure of residential hotels which house low-income tenants.
The groups involved in organizing the event are Raise the Rates, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Carnegie Community Action Project, B.C. Persons With AIDS Society, Streams of Justice, and Vancouver Area Network of Drugs Users.
You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.