I read an interesting opinion column in the Christian Science Monitor on Friday. It was about the how folks in Vancouver, British Columbia, were being impacted due to their city’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
One of the first things I noted was the cost.
The article mentioned that the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) had originally anticipated it would cost the city roughly $660 million to host the Olympics.
Apparently someone on the VANOC didn’t quite know how to use a calculator because they went over budget. In fact, they went way over budget – by $5 billion. Yes, you read that correctly – $5 billion!
To put it another way: what they had figured would cost half a billion dollars ended up costing ten times as much and actually caused the VANOC to go bankrupt. The city of Vancouver had to step in the foot overwhelming majority of the overall costs.
That bailout will have far reaching consequences.
According to the article, because of the
"… government’s unanticipated Olympic spending, Vancouver’s most basic public programs will have to scrabble for funding in the coming years. The already neglected programs to address housing and homelessness won’t make the government’s agenda at all."
Perhaps the greatest irony is that (again according to the article),
"No host city has ever made a profit, according to Robert Barney, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario."
The bottom line is that, Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games will not yield a return on investment.
And – as if to add injury to insult – Vancouver went through great pains to shoo their homeless out of the area.
I read some news reports of the homeless being given one way tickets out of town.
But I don’t want it to seem as though I’m vilifying Vancouver.
The truth is that numerous communities here in the U.S. are just as guilty of trying to "sanitize" their streets of the visibility of homelessness – without actually accomplishing anything of any substantive value.
Local governments do it each time they enact laws and ordinances that criminalize the homeless for performing life sustaining activities in public places. They do it when they prohibit non-profit groups and private citizens from feeding the homeless in public parks and other areas. They do it when they tell religious groups that they cannot offer temporary shelter to the homeless when the weather is life threatening.
I find it indefensible that local governments will spend inordinate amounts of public funding on things which do not yield a "return on investment." Yet, when it comes to allocating funding to provide programs to assist the most impoverished of their citizenry, they revert to the same tired political song and dance with the claims of: We don’t have enough money to do that.
I’m willing to concede that our nation is undergoing difficult financial times. I’m also willing to concede that many communities are facing strained budgets.
However, even in financially good times, adequately addressing homelessness and poverty has never been a genuine priority for most cities. It has pretty much been a "we’ll get around to it sooner or later" mindset.
In the meanwhile, due to the lack of assistive or interventionary services, the numbers of homeless in the U.S. have continued to increase.
Consequently, addressing homelessness will be more costly.
And that, of course, means that local governments will continue to make the excuse that there isn’t enough in the city’s budget to fund programs to help the homeless. This, in turn, means that homelessness will continue to increase… and so on.
Quite a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
I enjoy the Olympics as much as the next man. I like that athletes from all around the world come together, setting aside their political and ideological beliefs, to compete against one another.
However, I wonder if the $5 billion overage that Vancouver spent to host the Winter Games might have been better utilized in helping its local citizens who are existing hand to mouth?
Likewise, I think about some of the superfluous things which local governments here in the U.S. spend public funding on and wonder if the public would be better served if those funds were directed at helping their citizens escape a life of poverty.
That would be the kind of return on investment I would like to see.
Of course, that’s just the way I view things.
After all, what I do know?
It’s not as though I’m a bureaucrat or politician.