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Poverty Olympics Torch Relay Launch Emphasizes Struggles Around the Province

On January 17, a group of advocates and activists launched a Poverty Olympics Torch Relay at the Vancouver Art Gallery which will visit 18 communities around the province, mirroring the route of the official torch relay, until it reaches Vancouver on February 7 and makes its way to the opening ceremonies of the Poverty Olympics.

At the press conference, attendees displayed signs showing the rates of low-income in participating communities around BC, which reach as high as 25.3% in 100 Mile House and 26.6% in the City of Vancouver.  The mascots of the Poverty Olympics, Chewy the Rat, Itchy the Bedbug and Creepy the Cockroach also had a presence as they skated around the press conference.

During the Torch Relay, farmers will serve home-grown soup and perform skits in 100 Mile House, the Troubled Times Troubadours will play and sing their woes in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast, and the Poverty Olympics mascots will ski down the slopes in Whistler, where homeless people are allegedly already being displaced to Squamish.

Why are British Columbians around the province coming together to be a part of this Torch Relay? Because people are struggling with poverty and homelessness throughout the province.

There are somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless people in BC. 643,000 British Columbians were living in poverty in 2007, the latest data available. That was during the economic boom, before the recession hit, and the government responded by slashing funding across the board – education, the arts, libraries, health care, social services, seniors care, legal aid.  Poverty rates are going to rise as a result. Through it all, the government has continued to fund the Olympics, which has now reached a cost of over 6 billion dollars.

In the build-up to Olympic Games, people often wonder whose going to go home with the most medals. Well, BC’s already ahead of the pack in Gold Medal wins. This province has the highest average wealth in Canada and more millionaires per capita than any other province. It also has the worst poverty rate in Canada, the lowest minimum wage, and the highest child poverty rate for the sixth year in a row. BC is the epitome of the phrase “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Clearly, it’s only “The Best Place on Earth” for a few, while many more live in grinding poverty, desperately trying to get by from one day to the next.

But people aren’t just living in poverty, they’re dying in poverty. Poor people have a shorter life expectancy than those with high incomes. A homeless person dies every 12 days in BC.

This province is in a state of emergency. And we need bold actions to get us out of it. But we can get out of it; there is nothing inevitable about poverty and homelessness. Other countries and provinces are committing to the reduction of poverty and seeing results. During the Poverty Olympics Torch Relay, Torchbearers will be calling on our governments to put the same energy and public spending into ending poverty and homelessness as they have into holding the Olympics.

Media coverage from Poverty Olympics torch relay launch:

Homeless stage an Olympic torch relay to raise awareness of plight
People’s Daily Online/Xinhua News Agency, January 18

Anti-poverty activists launch Olympic-style torch relay to highlight concerns
The Canadian Press, January 17
(Featured in the Kamloops Daily News, Coast Reporter [Sunshine Coast, BC], Winnipeg Free Press, Guelph Mercury, The Moose Jaw Times Herald, Metro News Halifax, Macleans.ca, NewsTalk 1010, canadaeast.com and more!)

Whistler hosts first ever poverty olympics
Rabble.ca, February 2

Poverty Olympics torch relay begins
News 1130, January 17

Poverty Olympics Torch Relay begins
CKNW, January 18 (Featured also in Manitoba CJOB 68)

The 2010 “Poverty Olympics” Coming
Vancouver Sun, January 19

2010 Poverty Olympics Torch Relay underway

canadianimmigrant.ca

Poverty Olympics torch relay protest arrives in Chilliwack on Monday Chilliwack Progress, January 29 (Featured also in Abbotsford News)

For more information about the Poverty Olympics and the Torch Relay visit www.povertyolympics.ca

On February 1, 2010, the Downtown Eastside Justice for All Network held a press conference and rally at the opening of the BC government’s ‘Connect’ center (see government website). On the eve of the Olympic Games, the opening of the center represents a last-minute attempt by the government to cover up its indefensible track record of broken promises, poverty and planned gentrification.

  • ‘Anti-poverty protest mars event: Provincial gov’t officially launches ‘Dowtown Eastside Connect’ kiosk’, The Province, Feb 02, 2010

* February 15th, noon at Pigeon Park (Carrall and Hastings, Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories). Large and inclusive rally of all our neighbours and supporters. Organized by DTES Power of Women Group with the support of the DTES Justice for All Network.

* Support the “Olympic Tent Village“. Endorsed by Streams of Justice.

The upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics has escalated the homelessness crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the Greater Vancouver area. Since the Olympic bid, homelessness has nearly tripled in the GVRD, while real estate and condominium development in the Downtown Eastside is outpacing social housing by a rate of 3:1. Meanwhile, a heightened police presence has further criminalized those living in extreme material poverty in the poorest postal code in Canada.

With the eyes of the world on Vancouver, residents of the Downtown Eastside and our supporters will be taking the streets to affirm our call for justice and dignity. We want:
1. Real action to end homelessness now!
2. End condo development and displacement in the Downtown Eastside
3. End discriminatory ticketing, police harassment, and all forms of criminalization of poverty.

No more empty talk and no more empty lots.

see event on facebook

download event poster (pdf) here: no more talk

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE GROUPS DEMAND: “PROROGUE THE OLYMPICS!”

Jan 11, 2010 VANCOUVER, Coast Salish Territories – With one month till the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games, a network of Downtown Eastside (DTES) groups and supporters are calling on the Government of Canada to prorogue the Olympics.

“Harper and other politicians are always quick to point out the undemocratic nature of other countries. To us, Canada is a failed state given the consistent and systematic failure of all levels of government to address the pressing issues of homelessness, gentrification, missing and murdered women, poverty, and criminalization in the DTES. We are demanding that the government prorogue the Olympics!” states Harsha Walia, Project Coordinator at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre.

The DTES Justice for All Network consisting of Carnegie Community Action Project, DTES Women Centre Power of Women Group, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, DTES Elders Council, Streams of Justice, Vancouver Action,
Impact on Communities Coalition, PACE, DTES Neighbourhood House and others will be organizing and participating in a month long series of events. The launch will be taking place with a press conference on Tues Jan 12 at 3 pm
at 133 Powell Street.

The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is the poorest postal code in Canada, while British Columbia has the highest poverty rate in the country.  Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project states: “Money spent on
the Olympics could have ended homelessness and poverty in my neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside.  Instead, the Olympics has been an informal target date for “revitalizing” the DTES which has made it easier for developers to sell condos in our area.  Low-income residents have been pushed out by higher land prices which cause rent increases and evictions. The area is becoming more uncomfortable to those who have lived here for decades.”

According to Stella August, member of the DTES Power to Women Group “The police have launched a series of crackdowns against the poor in time for the international media and the tourists. We are angered at the hypocrisy of a government that closes down emergency shelters and refuses to build proper housing, while allowing police to harass and displace homeless people. People should matter more than corporate profits.”

According to Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice “Forcing people into shelters is not a solution to homelessness; it simply renders it invisible to the mediated gaze of international tourists and investors. We need new secure, adequate, and accessible low-income housing that truly addresses the homelessness crisis of our city. We will raise a ruckus during and beyond the Olympics until that happens.”

“We want all the people coming to Canada to know about the unimaginable violence that has taken the lives of so many women in the DTES,” states Beatrice Starr of the DTES Power to Women Group. “Every year the list of murdered and missing women continues to grow, but our society just sees them as another stereotype or another statistic. It is shameful that there is the political will to host the Olympic Games, but little support for our call for justice for our sisters and daughters and friends.” Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women wrote: “Hundreds of cases involving aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.”

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