Olympic Tent Village- Corporate News Coverage
New York Daily News, Tuesday, March 2nd 2010
VANCOUVER - The cars were passing along Hastings Street on Sunday night, drivers still honking horns, waving flags and screaming out windows to celebrate Sidney Crosby's overtime goal. A few blocks away, Olympic organizers were handing out brown moose hats to spectators at the Closing Ceremony, which was just getting started.
Harsha Walia heard none of it. She hadn't watched a minute of the big hockey game between Canada and the U.S., or the earlier Alpine events, or the figure skating, or the ceremonies. The Vancouver community organizer was dishing out rice, beans and lettuce to the homeless at the self-proclaimed Olympic Tent City between Abbott and Carroll Sts., where the hungry were lined up for something very different than medals.
"Does it look like people care here?" Walia said. "People here have way bigger issues than hockey games."
It is always the case with the Olympic Games. They come and go and raise a great, ephemeral tide of pride and nationalism among local residents who demand to be called the best Olympic hosts ever. The local hotels and restaurants rip off tourists for two weeks, a hefty bonus.
Then the Games are gone, the adrenaline fades, the bills come home to roost, and everyone wonders whether it was really worth it.
Vancouver is already thrashing between these mood swings, a victim of urban hormonal imbalance. Should it be proud? Regretful? Both?
Because of its diversity, there was considerably more awareness and antipathy demonstrated toward the Olympic spectacle from the beginning, particularly on the impoverished East Side. Tent City became the symbolic center of protests, and a very visible indication along the main bus routes that not all was right in the city. Banners and lean-tos consumed this vacant lot. Native Canadians, some of the poorest residents here, gathered daily for food and found impromptu shelter. Most walked. A few arrived on bicycles.
Like the Olympics itself, this temporary headquarters will be slowly dismantled now. "Diminishing resources," Walia said. She hoped, though, there had been some progress. Not enough, but some.
"People noticed," she said. "We had a hundred homeless here sleeping every night. We fast-tracked 41 people yesterday into BC (British Columbia) housing. They were just sitting on those units."
The protests had touched nerves and maybe tapped into some tax revenue streams - although very little compared to the money spent on the Games.
"The main function of sports is to distract people from the homelessness, from the hunger, and in the U.S. from their health care problems," said Frank Harris, another community organizer who watched a couple periods of the hockey game. "And no doubt our message is lost when Canada wins a gold medal in hockey.
"They spent $8 billion on these Games, for a two-week party," Harris said. "If they had used one-eighth of that, they could have housed permanently our homeless."
A demonstration was gathering steam outside Tent City. Cars that had been driving past, honking, were stopped by police while a hundred protesters banged drums and gave speeches on Hastings Street about the need for better housing.
Half a mile away, the athletes marched and people were wearing the moose hats, having a grand party.
By yesterday, that party was over. The snowboarders and the spectators were scattering to all corners of the world. The homeless slowly left their Olympic Tent City, seeking fresh shelter. The hotels that might house them on the East Side were still closed.
Vancouver was just another ex-Olympic city. The bills are in the mail.
The last remnant of Vancouver's anti-Olympic movement began to be dismantled Monday as activists closed their tent city in the Downtown Eastside.
The tents at 58 West Hastings came down after BC Housing found social housing units for 35 homeless people who had joined the tent city set up by the Olympic Resistance Movement and other anti-poverty groups.
Activist Nathan Crompton said the new housing was a "victory" for the tent city strategy.
BC Housing initially said there were no units available, but then found units after one of its offices was briefly occupied Friday by activists and homeless people, said Crompton.
"We see it as an initial victory, although it's fairly bittersweet because there are still another 1,000 homeless people in the five-block area," added Crompton, a member of Vancouver Action, an anti-poverty group of mostly university students.
BC Housing media spokesman Sam Rainboth disputed this version of events.
Rainboth said staff from the provincial housing agency began searching for available social housing units after going to the tent city site Friday and determining how many people were homeless.
Rainboth said the tent city did not force BC Housing to find units.
"If people had come to us individually and applied and gone through the normal process, we certainly could have identified options for them," said Rainboth.
City Coun. Kerry Jang praised the activists for pushing homelessness onto the agenda. Jang said the tent city's success was in marked contrast to the disruption caused by the so-called "black-bloc" anarchists on the first day of the Olympic Games.
"The tent city people went with the approach of getting [their] message out without disruption -- and so the focus stayed on the issues rather than on the behaviours."
Jang said the homeless activists have helped put the spotlight on the need for a national housing strategy -- a demand Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson plans to raise in discussions with the Conservative government in Ottawa this week.
"They got their message out, which will make our voices more effective in bringing the issue of housing the homeless to the provincial and federal tables."
Jang said the visiting media saw the city during the Olympics "warts and all and began to understand the challenges we face."
He added that "it was really a great two weeks."
Tent city activist Crompton said the people behind the tent city now want to focus on ending the gentrification in the Downtown Eastside, between Abbott and Main streets.
Crompton and other activists fear that the redevelopment of Woodward's, despite its inclusion of social housing, is causing property values to rise in the area, reducing the number of low-income units in the area.
Also check out: http://olympictentvillage.wordpress.com/