Some time after the Olympic opening ceremonies take place, there will be a sea of red tents fanning out around the downtown core. They will be housing homeless people and their supporters as a sign of visible protest at the inaction of government. The Red Tent Campaign initiated by the Pivot Legal Society and supported by dozens of organizations is attempting to put a national housing program back on the agenda.
The organizations are actively supporting Vancouver East MP Libby Davies private members bill, C-304, as it advances through Parliament. Earlier this year, Davies joined the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay, an action that has been ongoing for over a year.
This week, BC Housing, the City of Vancouver and private sponsors such as the Vancouver Sun and the Province newspaper opened up a propaganda office to tell a distorted story of the Downtown Eastside at a cost of $150,000. As a symbolic gesture of the triumph of public relations over policymaking during mega-events, it is almost perfect. As an unholy alliance between government and corporate media, it reeks of the worst kind of propaganda. It is meant to turn citizens in to spectators. It is the last gratuitous gesture by government to declare that the Inner City Inclusive Commitment is officially dead – a cheap public relations scam if there ever was one. It is an attack on democracy. Its very existence is an act of amnesia.
It is perfectly normal for governments to spend $900 million security or $600 million for a new roof for BC Place after the games. Unfortunately, it has come at huge opportunity cost.
There has been a 131% increase in homelessness over the Olympic time frame in Metro Vancouver. The number of people who are street homeless has increased by 364%. The number of people living in shelters has increased 33%. Renovation based evictions continue while statistics are not kept by any level of government. Approximately 1,300 units of SRO housing is no longer accessible to low income residents in the Downtown Eastside.
According to the BC Coroner’s Office, there have been 96 deaths of homeless people between 2006 to 2008. The health and human rights implications of living life in the periphery and the margins of existence has been devastating.
There are between 10,500 and 15,000 homeless people in BC. There are between 200,000 to 300,000 homeless people in Canada.
These are statistics and figures that will not be found at the BC Housing propaganda office that is meant to gloss over the facts for a cheery, tourism version of the city for international journalists.
If the 2010 Olympics are meant to be a mirror for who we are a people as the organizers claim, I think we’ve really hit rock bottom.
There is no doubt that the 2010 Olympic have been an attack on civil society.
The Red Tent Campaign will bring together civil society across the country to harness the international media exposure of the 2010 Olympics to once again launch a campaign for a national housing program that will fan out across the country.
Ending homelessness is the peoples agenda for the Olympic Games. We intend to take the government and media there kicking and screaming if have to.