Where will Whistler's homeless population go during the Games?

During the Depression, people were asked, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”
In the prelude to the 2010 Olympics, Vanoc is asking, “Brother, can you spare an extra room?”

This week, local papers reported that Vanoc is looking for housing for 700 Whistler-area Olympic Games volunteers. With less than 63 days before the Owe-lympics, that’s a whole lotta beds to fill, putting many volunteer positions in jeopardy.

To date, VANOC has only secured 300 Whistler volunteers with accommodation through its Homestay program. Olympic organizers are asking Whistler residents to “open their hearts and homes to out-of-area Games-time volunteers.” After six years of dealing with VANOC, many B.C. residents are tired of opening their pocketbooks, while the government makes massive cuts to health care, education and arts budgets.

What’s the enticement?

In exchange for hosting a volunteer for a minimum of 20 nights, VANOC will give you 16 free tickets to pre-selected Olympic events. You receive extra tickets for each additional volunteer(s) based on a sliding scale. It sounds pretty good, until you realize that the tickets are only for the Whistler Olympic Park and the Sliding Centre. No alpine or hockey events.

The Whistler Question reported that, “This time, no tickets to the nightly Victory Ceremonies, or Vancouver competition events are being offered.” Why bother?

Whistler residents attended these events for free last January during the World Cups qualifying races, and I’d hardly call the luge, skeleton or bobsled events spectator sports. Blink and you’ll miss the athletes whizzing by on their lunch trays.

While I appreciate the time and out-of -pocket expenses that these volunteers have invested in coming to Whistler, I don’t support a corporate collective that includes RBC, Dow Chemicals, Coca Cola and McDonalds.

It’s cheeky to be asking Whistler residents to host volunteers pro bono, while some pre-screened residents will be receiving as much as $80,000 a month to house RCMP or media personnel. The majority of Whistler’s employees will be working non-stop during the Olympics, while juggling kids, school closures, vehicle restrictions, non-existent public parking, and security forces on steroids. Many of us already live in cramped quarters and have at least one couch surfer.

Whistler’s wealthy homeowners don’t need the free tickets. They will either be enjoying the games with their friends and families, or staying away during the Games, choosing to leave their chalets empty, instead of hosting a Vanoc volunteer.

Addressing the Homeless Issue

While Vanoc tries to house out-of-town Olympic volunteers, homeless people in the Lower Mainland are either being forced into shelters by the police or  are being handed one-way bus tickets to B.C’s Interior, so they’re “out of sight” during the Games. A repeat of what happened during Expo ’86, but on a much larger scale.

Other Whistler homeowners are donating the proceeds from ther Olympic rentals to the Streethome Foundation and Covenant House. The Home For the Games non-profit website matches 2010 Olympic visitors with Whistler and Metro Vancouver hosts for more affordable short-term home stays. A good cause.

The Olympics are supposedly all bout the athletes, but many Canadian athletes are paying their own ways to Whistler to compete in “Canada’s Games,” such as Alberta’s Nordic Combined hopeful, Jason Myslicki who is relying on friends, family and strangers to get him to Whistler. According to the Globe and Mail, “Nordic combined receives no financing from the federal government and not a penny from Own the Podium.”

If no accommodation is found for these 700 volunteers, then Olympic organizers will have no choice but to bus them up daily from the Lower Mainland, a two-hour ride each way.

With the global economic downturn, less than expected sponsorship revenues and the “Olympic Aversion Effect”, Vanoc recently returned large blocks of hotel rooms to Whistler hoteliers.  Vanoc could solve the accommodation problem by housing all 700 volunteers in the empty hotel rooms. Problem solved!

Apply Today

If anyone out there wants to apply, visit www.vancouver2010.com/homestay.
Deadline is December 21, 2009.

If you still need convincing to become a host family, you can watch the 2010 Homestay video with Olympics mascots, Quatchi and Sumi.



Pina Belperio

Welcome to Word of the Rings, a new Rabble.ca blog that aims to serve as a one-stop examination at what’s happening behind the scenes in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Pina...