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Invict-Some Games: The Forgotten Veterans of Toronto

During our monthly run at the end of September, me and other members of Red Dot Project happened to be downtown the same weekend the Invictus Games were taking place. We started noticing during our distribution, that not as many individuals were present in the usual areas we deliver our kits to. Areas such as Nathan Phillips Square and Dundas Square were blockaded by authorities and a lot of our service users were nowhere in sight.

With the Invictus Games happening a few weeks ago in Toronto, it really begs the question, what happens to all the homeless individuals during this period of time? Where do they go? Are they forcibly removed during this time by authorities? If so, where are they relocated to? These are important questions that we as citizens need our government to start addressing. My research to seek answers to some of these questions has proven to be a difficult task, with limited resources and data being made available to the public view by our municipal government. Events such as the Panam Games, the G20 Summit, even the filming of Suicide Squad, has displaced many individuals without housing, living in the core of the city.

This brought my attention back to the 2016 Olympic Games held in Brazil. I remember headlines such as this one, “Brazil officials evicting families from homes ahead of 2016 Olympic Games” in an article written by journalist Bruce Douglas. Articles reporting slums being cleared to make way for infrastructure were all over the international news and media, and were a hot topic of concern for journalists reporting on the 2016 Olympic games. These actions had serious implications for the families and individuals involved. Not only were these individuals uprooted from their homes, they were given no compensation from the government in return. It appears that paving way for a high speed bus lane for the 2016 games, was of more significance than the eyesore that these slums presented in the eyes of the Brazilian government. Because these slums represented “at risk” housing, there was little to no priority placed on their protection. No regard was given to the families and individuals who resided there. Slums or not, these were individuals' homes. Awareness surrounding attitudes are critical to not only the homeless population, but even those individual's with houses – just houses that may not be up to the average standard of those used to living with socioeconomic privilege. The Brazilian government is not the only government guilty of this. This is a form of class oppression that continues to permeate throughout many nations and countries across the globe.

In fact, it continues to happen right in our own neighbourhood. The G20 Summit of 2010 held in Toronto serves as a perfect example of this. CBC News reported that prior to the summit, police released a statement announcing that homeless individuals as well as those who could not provide identification were not to be allowed within the restricted area in the heart of the city, while leaders from all across the world met at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre that June. These restrictions placed affected all individuals near the convention centre, as even individuals who lived in that area, or worked there, were directed to pass through designated checkpoints. Furthermore, the installation of a “perimeter fence” further reinforced these boundaries to keep said individuals out of this area. The article reports that “it’s not clear how well the offer of housing has been communicated to homeless people in the area”, demonstrating neglect and a failure on part of local authorities to address the displacement of this population. The individual interviewed in this article stated that police threatened to have those who remained within this area arrested if they continued to stay there.

If these individuals are legally not allowed to reside within said areas during major events, the city needs to start creating practical solutions to address these issues. If these individuals are being forcibly removed, there needs to be a safe and secure place that they are being relocated to. We also need to start being aware of what we value, as a society, as being a “home”. The term “homeless” in and of itself is problematic in that it implies that those without housing do not have a home. They have a home; it just may not look like yours or mine.

The housing that made up the slums of Vila Autódromo in Rio de Janeiro were not "homes" in the eyes of the Brazilian government. The context of the 2016 Olympic games was enough to make way for a resettlement project in this area that was seen of being little to no value in the eyes of the government. We need to start advocating for the rights of these individuals, and force our government to be more transparent in its actions surrounding the displacement of homeless individuals. We need to start asking the right questions, and receive concrete answers. It is time that we stop allowing the City of Toronto to act as an Airbnb for short term accommodations during these events as it causes long term implications for the individuals being displaced. While we recognize the value of these games as well as the importance of other major events, we need to start making greater considerations for the marginalized groups in our city during these events. The Invictus Games is a wonderful event that celebrates our wounded, injured, or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans while allowing them to engage in this sporting event. What we fail to address in this celebration of our veterans, is the statistic released by The City of Toronto which states that 7% of homeless individuals report experience in the Canadian military. Something to think about next time you walk down the street...

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