Watched by millions of people all over the world, the cities hosting these enormous gatherings do not just beef up their security and repave their streets, they literally “clean up” their communities by sweeping out people who are homeless.
They’ve got to show off the best of their metropolis, not the worse. So they paint over the graffitti, fill the potholes, construct award-winning buildings, and tell the locals to stay off the freeways and public transit. And, of course, they clear out all evidence of homelessness.
Back in 2000, service providers watched the Los Angeles Police Department clear the signs of homelessness from the city’s downtown area, where the Democratic National Convention was to be held. Tents, trash, shopping carts, and people were all pushed out. Activists were furious.
Cities hosting America’s annual Super Bowl have often been accused of pushing homelessness out of their cities. Earlier this year, the city of Indianapolis, home of the 2012 Superbowl, tried a different tactic. Instead of police sweeps, they encouraged people living on the streets to access services and enter homeless shelters.
Across the pond, the city of London is encountering its own big event issues. They are not only grappling with gaps in security, drops in local business, and Mitt Romney dissing the city. London leaders also prepared for their own big event homelessness issue.
With thousands of people from around the world who can afford to fly into the British capital and pay exhorbitant hotel rates, comes the temptation for impoverished Brits to flock to the city to beg. Add in a few greedy landlords who evict their low-paying renters to charge outrageous fees to wealthy Olympic fans who can’t find an open hotel room within a hundred kilometers of the River Thames. Then, of course, the risk of an increase in homelessness becomes a pressing concern.
Like their counterparts in Indianapolis, London officials are trying to encourage the city’s “rough sleepers” to enter homeless shelters. Sounds like hiding homelessness during a highly-publicized gathering is not just an American phenomenon.
I wonder where Prince William stands on addressing London’s homelessness during this Olympic season? In addition to being completely in the dark about his grandmother’s role in the opening ceremonies, is the Royal Prince—who advocates for ending homelessness by sleeping on the streets himself—in the dark about his country’s response to homelessness?
We have seen the amazing structures built in London for this year’s Olympics, from the elegant Olympic Stadium and the soaring Aquatics Centre to the curved Basketball Arena and swooping Velodrome. The thoughtful designs and large amount of funds, reaching hundreds of millions of pounds, have successfully presented England’s capital to the world.
Just imagine what could happen if the United Kingdom invested those resources in ending homelessness permanently, by building enough affordable housing for every homeless Brit.
Now, that would be worth a gold medal.
Photo by Paul Nuttall.