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Today the Olympic committee rejected Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic games. Chicago was one of the four finalists. The city has been pumping out propaganda about how hosting the Olympics would be a good thing. It would mean more jobs and more money. In an economy such as this, who would argue with that? The message we keep hearing: “The Olympics would be good for us.”
Unfortunately, history seems to suggest that not everyone will get to reap the benefits. History shows that for our sisters and brothers who are homeless, the Olympics are bad for us.
During the Olympic games in Atlanta, a number of organizations implemented a program called “Homeward Bound.” The name recalls warm, fuzzy feelings and nostalgic memories of a movie about the adventures of two loyal dogs and a cat trying to return to their loving owners. Homeward Bound was actually a mass deportation. Homeless individuals were rounded up like Jews and deported. Those who weren’t deported were thrown in jail. The police mass-produced warrants with the following description: “African American, male, homeless.” The blatant classist and racist motives are undeniable. All that was missing as a gas chamber.
Apparently, people learned their lesson when Salt Lake City won the right to host. There was no documented case of deportation, although allegations were raised. The city actually secured temporary housing for about 80% of the homeless population during the games. Nevertheless, as soon as the games were over, everyone was kicked back out on the streets.
Not surprisingly, the homeless in Beijing fared far worse. Official Chinese numbers state that only 6,000 were displaced by the games. Everyone else’s estimates put that number at anywhere between 1 and 1.5 million. I’ve heard from multiple independent eye-witnesses that Beijing literally built a wall around the Olympic city to keep everyone out.
Salt Lake City seemed to display the most civility and compassion towards its homeless. However, estimates put Chicago’s homeless population at over 70,000 (compared to 2,000 in Salt Lake City). The sheer magnitude of that number would have made it a much more serious issue. Of course, with the miles and miles of sprawling urban ghettos, it might be easier to turn Chicago’s homeless into internally displaced persons (IDPs). Who’s going to do anything about an extra couple thousand homeless people in the hood? Although you also have consider the tens of thousands who will lose their homes to Olympic gentrification, as did over 30,000 in Atlanta.
Olympic gentrification would have affected me personally. Our apartment is two blocks south of the proposed site for the Olympic village. Our entire community would have been destroyed as property values would rise and the barely affordable housing in our neighborhood would become utterly unaffordable. Those who own their homes would have lost them. Those who rent their homes wouldn’t be able to pay. Forced migration would ensue. Any remaining traces of the community that exists now would wither and die. Our community would have become an urban, hipster paradise at the expense of the families and individuals who live here now. The desert would be reinvigorated into a booming white metropolis of the empire. But the desert wouldn’t actually be gone… only removed, forcibly relocated in a disguised death march.
So while it certainly would have been fun to host the Olympic games, I for one am glad that we lost the bid. A community should not operate according to a philosophy in which ends justify means. What is good for an privileged sector of society at the expense of a marginalized sector ultimately hurts the community as a whole. Good for all, or none at all. We should never ignore the hurt and hardship that we inflict on others in order to benefit ourselves.