Olympics can push poor into "slavery", Atlantans warn Sydney FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 7 Aug 1998 03:56:22 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald, 4 August, 1998


     By Adele Horin

The head of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has urged Sydney to be
vigilant in defence of homeless people and low-income tenants in the run-up
to the Olympic Games.

Mrs Anita Beaty said in Sydney yesterday that Atlanta had lost 9,500
low-cost residential units in the lead-up to the 1996 Games, and homeless
people had been bussed out of the city, arrested on minor infringements,
and detained in a new city jail in an effort to make the city "pristine".

The Olympics had given city officials and developers the excuse for the
speculation and redevelopment "they had drooled over for years", she said.

Mrs Beaty, sponsored by the Law Foundation, is a special guest at a two-day
conference, Homelessness - the Unfinished Agenda, organised by Sydney City
Mission and Shelter NSW.

Mr Brian Burdekin, the author of the 1989 report into homeless children,
and now special adviser to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said
Sydney had lost 3,000 low-income units in the run-up to the Bicentennial
celebrations and he feared the same mistake could be made again.

The Herald has learnt Sydney City Council has failed to release a report it
commissioned on the possible impact of the Olympics on homelessness.

It is believed the report, delivered in February, highlights the problems
of low-income people coming to the city in search of Olympics-related work
or to "share the spirit of the Games" and unable to find affordable

Mrs Beaty said Sydneysiders should legislate for rent controls to avoid the
sharp rent rises, short-term leases and forced evictions that characterised
the Atlanta experience.

In one case, a property management company had given tenants two choices:
to move out during the Olympics or pay the new market rent of $US3,000 a
month for three months.

When forced to back down after intense pressure, the company offered
short-term leases that expired just before the Olympics.

City officials evicted thousands of people from public housing in prime
locations to make way for town house developments used for the athletes and
later sold.

As well, the city fathers razed three shelters for the homeless to make the
Centennial Olympic Park which was intended to be a "world gathering place"
but achieved notoriety after a bomb blast during the Games.

Mrs Beaty said some welfare agencies had been co-opted into distributing
bus fares to homeless people to return them to "their support" systems in
other towns.

But many did not want to go, and the towns did not want them.

"The attitude, was "we don't want the visible homeless to spoil the view',"
she said.

About 9,000 people were arrested in the year leading up to the Games over
minor city ordinances, such as loitering in car parks without a car,
urinating in public and aggressive begging.

The task force succeeded in getting a restraining order on the police to
stop the arrests.

The crackdown on the homeless continued after the Olympics with the
establishment of special courts for ordinance violators. Some were
sentenced to street sweeping in return for shelter.

"It's a new form of slavery," Mrs Beaty said.

She said Sydney should listen to the advocates for the homeless who knew
what was going on because "where there are large profits to be made, you
have to be vigilant".


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