As a kid, I have always viewed the Olympic Games as a time of excellence; a time where people come together in harmonized spirit and where some show off their talent and skill, so that they can achieve a goal and dream of a lifetime. The Olympic Games, for me, has always been about community, sport, and celebration that brings together the nations of the world.
A few days ago I went on an eye-opening adventure that changed my view of the Olympics.
Perhaps you remember one of my first blog posts about how ridiculous I thought it was that Vancouver was shelling out about $500 million to pay for a retractable roof to put on top of BC Place? The point that I was arguing had to do with the fact that when our city does not have that kind of money to just throw around everywhere, we should not be spending the big bucks on gigantic luxuries like the retractable roof when there are basic things about our city that could be improved first. For instance, we could be spending that money to contribute to a variety of good causes; charities for the homeless and hungry, the many children and people living below the poverty line, and making sure that kids who can't afford proper education can get it.
But when faced with the prospect of making some money and pleasing the avid football fans, our city can just suddenly toss half a billion into this, and forget the proper who, truly, need the money?
When faced with an event as prestigous as the Olympics, Vancouver should be able to celebrate our city and what makes us proud - our great community, our beautiful land, and our large groups of various nationalities. We shouldn't half to spend millions or billions just to please the tourists for a few weeks.
I have recently taken this view, but it wasn't until a few days ago that I actually got to see people who were being directly affected by the money being put into the Olympics instead of themselves.
It started out as a quest to find the anti-olympic protestors that have been showing their active spirit throughout the downtown area in the past couple weeks. Massive mobs have been seen carrying posters and signs advertising anti-olympic slogans, and there have been people vandalising and breaking things (a couple windows at the Bay were smashed). These are obviously a few of the extreme actions being taken against the Games, but I wanted to find regular people who remain silent about their dislike for the Games. They would be less dangerous, but they'd make an interesting story - everyone has a different opinion, and not many people get to express theirs the way or amount they'd like to.
After walking around the art gallery on Robson street, me and a few fellow reporters were directed by a woman to check out a small building in towards the east side. It's a place called "W2", where unaccredited jounalists and reporters can write and express their views. Upon arrival, we were then directed further down East Hastings to a place called "Tent City".
"Tent City" is an area blocked off for homeless people who cannot find shelter to stay in for the duration of the Games. The area is being used to build condos after the Games, so the homeless cannot stay there permanently. (Many in this neighbourhood are upset that this area will be used for condominiums, because it will raise the housing prices and force more people out onto the street). But for now, Tent City is what they call home. A hard, gravelly surface is what they sleep, eat, and live on.
When you first walk by Tent City, you notice the posters up against the fence: anti-olympic ones.
When you enter the fenced-in area, there are chairs set up in a semi-circle around a small fire.
Off to one side, there is a covered food area, where products have been lined up and the homeless can go help themselves. Most of this food has been kindly donated.
The rest of the area is for the tents.
Upon going inside this tent area, I was struck by how different this was to where I live. There are obvious reasons as to why I felt this way, of course - it's outdoors, sort of like a camping ground, people can just walk right in, and there are many different people living there.
But there was also the unobvious reasons - like the fact that I didn't even feel like I was in Vancouver. It was a very strange experience for me; I was somewhere that felt so...surreal.
It is a sad thing that so many people can't have shelter or food, and that in a big, wealthy city like ours, they have to worry about how they are going to get by and survive everyday.
Many people look down upon the homeless, because they think that they are scary or bad, or that they are poor because they are addicted to drugs.
In many instances, however, this is not the case. A lot of people who are living on the streets do not do drugs. And most of them are really nice people.
We are introduced to one of the elder homeless ladies on our way out, named Stella. She is mostly in charge of speaking on behalf of the people living in Tent City, she is well-spoken and thoughtful.
When asked about her view on the Olympics, Stella says: "Quite honestly, I am a little disgusted." This is because of many of the reasons I've mentioned above; the amounts of money that the city is spending on luxuries as opposed to immediate needs.
But this homeless woman does not say she is disgusted because she and the rest of the homeless people do not have homes, she is disgusted because she thinks that the massive amounts of money should be going towards young people, to help them with their education. Many kids cannot afford a proper education, or they come from a background that does not promote it, and so they therefore do not pursue it.
Stella does note that she has no problem at all with the sports; she thinks that they are a great thing and that there should definitely be an Olympics, to promote athletes and various communities across the world. There just shouldn't have to be this problem with spending serious amounts of money and landing in debt because of it.
Stella and the other residents of Tent City are not asking for much - all they want is shelter and food. "It is frustrating", Stella says, "Because we are really not asking for much, all we want is a place to stay. Please, Vancouver, give our people a place to stay."
The point that Stella makes is this: Vanoc can ask for a zip line, the Canada line, an ice rink at Robson square, a waterfall in front of the art gallery, new sports venues, new media centres, a snazzy convention centre - and yet, all the residents of Tent City are asking for is a place to stay; a roof over their heads.
And yet, what has been easier for our city to get?
If you want to see something that makes you feel like the most fortunate person in the world, that makes you realize you take so much for granted, and that will really bring you back down to earth from your Olympic-filled head that is still buzzing from taking a trip on the zip line, please go visit the city of tents. It will be an experience you remember much better than the zip line!