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2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony: What about Vancouver's homeless?

As long as the Olympics change locations, ill-equipped cities like Vancouver will make cosmetic preparations that only exacerbate local issues.

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Vancouver residents are not cynics or zealots. But do not be surprised if there are more protesters than athletes at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Olympics have a history of leaving host cities in debt, and relocating the poor and homeless away from the sanitized corridors of host cities. Vancouver is no exception.

The city initially put the public cost of hosting the Olympics at $660 million. It has exceeded that by $5 billion in unanticipated public spending, when the government bailed out the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC), which went bankrupt during the global financial turmoil.

Due to the government’s unanticipated Olympic spending, Vancouver’s most basic public programs will have to scrabble for funding in the coming years. The already neglected programs to address housing and homelessness won’t make the government’s agenda at all.

For both Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, the solution to visible homelessness was forcibly removing citizens from tourist areas during the Games.

Vancouver’s marginalization of the lower income citizens, however, began well before 2010. The homeless population in Vancouver has doubled since the city won the bid in 2003, as residents were squeezed out of low-income housing during the Olympic real estate boom and gentrification.

Then in December 2009, British Columbia, Vancouver’s province, passed the Assistance to Shelter Act allowing police officers to use compulsion to remove the homeless from public areas. Because the law has no local precedent, the timing sparked a heated debate about the government’s policy toward the homeless during the Olympics.

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