I had long planned to kick off September by issuing a challenge for reporters, activists, academics, politicians or someone to come up with some concrete evidence that homeless people are being shipped out of Vancouver to clean up the city for the Olympics or that those who are housed are being evicted to clear rooms for Olympic visitors.
The recent story about the Golden Crown evicting people from its rooms (the CBC’s version of that here) adds one more example to my file of stories that appear to show Olympics-related nastiness but actually don’t.
I’ve been hearing stories for at least two years now from both Vancouver and people around the province about what is allegedly going on. Someone who works on homelessness in Nanaimo told me back in 2006 or 2007 that Nanaimo was seeing an increase in homelessness because people were being chased out of Vancouver in preparation for the Olympics. A newspaper friend in Kamloops told me last year that people in Kamloops were convinced that the homeless there were increasing because they were being shipped out of Vancouver.
Homelessness advocates in Vancouver have occasionally claimed here that people are being shipped out. And then there are the stories about people being evicted “because of the Olympics.”
But I’ve never seen anyone come up with any proof that anything more is going on that what has been happening in Vancouver for at least a decade, if not longer. And it’s doing a disservice to everyone by claiming that everytime a person gets on a Greyhound bus out of the city, that person is being “shipped out” for the Olympics or by claiming that every time some scuzzy landlord evicts someone that it’s “because of the Olympics.”
For as long as I’ve covered Vancouver, homeless people or people in the Downtown Eastside have been offered bus tickets back to where they’re from by social service agencies here if they express a desire to get out of their current situation and reconnect with family or a hometown. In one memorable incident, a Carnegie Centre outreach worker gathered money from drug dealers working the corner to help send a young woman back to Kamloops. (Her rationale to them was, You’ve made a lot of money off these people, now it’s time to give back.)
Similarly, landlords have been pushing people out of their Downtown Eastside rooms for various reasons for at least the past decade as they’ve converted to backpacker hotels, “student residences” and the like. Some have even decided just to evict people and let the rooms stay empty, rather than have to deal with the clientele or city inspectors.
Advocates could do everyone a real service by gathering some durable proof that there has been any increase or change in this pattern due to the Olympics. Has the eviction rate gone up compared to past years? Have people been put on any buses out of the city against their will?
I realize that for people opposed to the Olympics per se, it’s convenient to blame everything that happens (the rain, the traffic, any rent increase) on the approaching Games. But it’s not scientific or believable to the vast majority of people in Vancouver, although it generates suitably alarmist headlines for those already inclined to suspect the worst.
None of this is to deny anything about the dire situation in Vancouver for the people who are either already homeless, on the verge of it, or living in the city’s crummy residential hotels and low-rent apartments. That is a horrifying problem that hits me anew every time I travel through this city and, although the province has turned the burner onto high in recent years to deal with it, their efforts haven’t been enough to mitigate the situation they allowed to develop.
But trying to attach that ongoing problem to the Olympics is dishonest.
I am very prepared to be proven wrong. If anyone can provide me with something more than an unsubstantiated claim, I’d be happy to publicize it far and wide.