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On February 3, 2008, the first annual Poverty Olympics were held at the Carnegie Library in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Just in time for the two-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Games, the event was held to inform international media of the current poverty and homelessness situation in Vancouver. Despite being described as a "massive crisis" by UN observer Miloon Kothari in 2007, the city and province have done very little to rectify the numerous humanitarian issues that have become more pressing with the arrival of the global mega-event. Already, several residential hotels have been bought out by developing companies and rising rental costs have displaced hundreds.
David Eby of the Pivot Legal Society remarks that, "the countdown to the Games is quickly turning into a countdown to international embarrassment."
The Poverty Olympics was organized by a coalition of community groups and organisations, such as VANDU, the Carnegie Community Action Project, Raise the Rates, Streams of Justice, and the BC Persons with AIDS Society, which combined their efforts to put on the event.
Instead of launching off ski slopes, the Poverty Olympics featured Welfare Hurdles, the Poverty-Line High Jump, and Long Jumps over Bedbug-Infested Mattresses.
Throughout the day, the spirit of the Eastside community truly shined. Trish Garner from Raise the Rates notes, "I've just never seen a community like it...They really care for each other. And I think that's what happens when they're struggling; they have to band together."
The audience gives a moment of silence before the start of the Poverty Olympics.
In 2002, the provincial government cut welfare rates and introduced barriers that kept people in need from getting help. Homelessness has more than doubled since then, and B.C. has more people living below the poverty line than any other province in Canada.
Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) addresses the large crowd regarding the issue of growing homelessness in the city. According to the City of Vancouver's Judy Graves, there are at least 2,300 homeless people in Vancouver, which marks a 78 per cent increase from the last homelessness count in 2005.
Wendy Pedersen and the Carnegie Community Action Project sing their rendition of 'Oh Canada!' which declares "that [B.C.'s] 40 million [dollar] surplus could end poverty now!" Instead, surplus spending has been re-directed from social housing promises. "We want the world to know that Vancouver and B.C. have world-class poverty and homelessness."
Many suffer financially, such as Steven, who has a hard time getting through the welfare hurdles. Barriers to getting welfare include the two-year independence test, the three-week work search, employment plans, web orientation, lack of transportation and inordinate documentation demands.
Not only are marginalized populations in Vancouver not benefiting from the Games, they are being displaced by new policies targeted at "cleaning up" Vancouver in time for 2010.
A version of this photo essay first appeared in the Ubyssey.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.