With the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver mere months away, the requisite issues have come up. Particularly the issue of performance-enhancing drugs among competing athletes. But a separate drug issue has become arguably more important to an Olympic committee looking to make a good impression on a global viewing audience. So how is the city planning to deal with the squalor, homelessness, and addiction that plagues their east side?
The problem of homelessness and drug addiction has been a long-running issue in the city, where an idyllic climate and liberal drug laws have endeared it to addicts. Drive through certain parts of the city late at night and you’ll think you’ve entered some sort of zombietown. While Vancouver officials have attempted to address the issue with diplomatic sensitivity, Olympic officials are concerned about the eyesore it could cause for what is arguably the single-greatest event in Vancouver’s history.
While a study this past summer even offered free heroin to area addicts, the city has been looking for a solution to a troubling homeless population that has already been noticed by some sports media. While initial plans were for officials to empty Vancouver’s downtown east side of its homeless during the Olympics, officials now admit that their best option is to provide government-run housing and treatment programs. This noticeable homeless community, 32% of which is made up of aboriginal people, has drawn a series of recommendations from the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing, especially since Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics.
While the Vancouver Police Department originally considered adopting a “home for the holidays” program to effectively transport area homeless and addicts out of town, they now admit that open drug dealing and drug use will retain a presence during the upcoming Olympics. Granted, Vancouver has made some interesting innovations with these games, including billing the Games as carbon neutral. But time will tell how this concession in the face of a global audience affects Vancouver’s approach to its local problem. Either way, it should be interesting to see how the issue plays out once the world’s athletes and sports-lovers descend on the beautiful city.