For a schizophrenic man, sleeping in a small park adjacent to an overpass on Vancouver’s downtown lower Eastside, voting on whether the Winter Olympics should come to town in 2010 probably wasn’t a priority. In fact, the chance of him even knowing that there was a vote held in 2003 is about as likely as a snowball successfully vacationing in hell. Of course, as is commonly the case around here, the aforementioned “societal burden” will be affected more by the outcome of that vote than almost anyone else.
The 2003 vote held among Vancouver residents received 64% support, though 50% of residents eligible to vote didn’t. That, of course, doesn’t take into account our friend, and those like him, that spend their nights sleeping in doorways, parks and numerous other places. The only thing that they can rely on with any consistency is that members of private security companies, hired by local business associations, will continue to employ entirely illegal and unconstitutional authority in an attempt to keep them out of sight and mind.
The Olympic “spirit”, like most things that include the term these days, is more a marketing stringer than a reality. As C$2bn (£1.1bn) turns into C$6bn rather fast, and to ensure that the “spirit” is properly presented, the last thing that anyone in Vancouver’s ivory towers wants is for this city’s dirty little secret to be exposed to the world, especially given the fact that in this town you can take a taxi from the nation’s poorest urban neighbourhood to one of its wealthiest in five to 10 minutes, depending on traffic.
There’s no arguing that Vancouver is a beautiful city, that those neighbourhoods that house the nouveau riche who have materialised in ever increasing numbers are clean, safe and attractive. It is a city that has been utterly transformed over the last decade, and one that has seen property values skyrocket to the point that Vancouver’s dark side is now viewed as a vast, untapped gold find. A block away from one of the most infamous corners in the country, Main and Hastings, gentrified loft apartments are being offered up to foreign visitors for sublet at prices of up to C$9,000 dollars a week during the Olympics.
Below their windows, those that live on the streets face an entirely different reality, one that will most likely see them swept under the proverbial rug so that the world doesn’t have to deal with their presence, as was the case in 1986 during the World’s Fair. Private security companies will see to that, as will the province and the city itself, and all of it will be condoned by the very same silent majority that rolls their car windows up when they’re driving through the lower Eastside en route to the downtown core’s more acceptable regions. In truth, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the security budget for the games includes an off-the-books fund so that federal monies and resources can be used to address “the problem”, conveniently misrepresenting it as a legitimate security concern.
I have walked out of my front door and been faced with the reality that I am, in many ways, separated from those passing me by dishevelled on the sidewalk only by the fact that I have the financial ability to pay for medication to combat my own mental illness – I suffer from type two bipolarity. Every person that calls the streets of the lower Eastside home has a story, stories that the majority are not interested in hearing. To most, those that find themselves on the streets are there by choice, not because their personal stories are replete with tales of unimaginable sexual and physical abuse, the endurance of nightmarish childhood environments completely foreign to most; or the fact that they suffer from mental illness and have been removed from long-term facilities due to budget cuts and unceremoniously relocated to a void of disparity where they are preyed upon from the instant that they arrive.
One struggles to put billions of dollars into context when faced with the reality that that money could have been used to tackle one of Canada’s greatest shames. It is during such struggles of conscience that the term “spirit” comes to mind. And then, all at once, its marketability arrives.