Some people in Whitehorse are hungry.
Others are hungry for a legacy.
And so, in the next month, or so, thousands of athletes, coaches, support staff and kibitzers will arrive in Whitehorse for the Canada Winter Games.
City and territorial leaders have been planning the three-week festival-like extravaganza for years.
Almost every city resident is expected to play some role. Thousands of volunteer hours will be devoted to the effort, pushing citizens to the limit.
Within the two local governments, the event has also gobbled up an extraordinary amount of time and attention that would otherwise have been devoted to other things.
And public focus has been firmly fixed on the national sporting event, often to the exclusion of other things.
As part of the Herculean planning effort, Whitehorse, the Yukon government and Ottawa have collectively spent more than $85 million building pools, arenas, tracks, courts and the housing facilities necessary to stage the massive amusement.
That’s a pile of money.
It has been a distraction — sapping attention from other things.
While our leaders have been building their legacy, the problem of poverty and hunger has been totally ignored.
As the Canada Games Centre was built, access to emergency food supplies in Whitehorse has decreased even as demand for the service has increased.
Higher rents and a rising cost of living is eating into food budgets. This has, in part, been driven by the economic activity generated by the Games.
Over the last few years, it has become more common for women and children to be seen in the lineups at the local soup kitchens.
And, unlike its two sister territories (both partners in this pan-northern event), Whitehorse has no food bank.
There is no central warehouse where food can be stored for distribution to those in need.
We’ve just built a $30-million dorm for visiting athletes to use for a couple of weeks.
But there is no government food-distribution system in the territory.
Yet, every month 200 city residents take advantage of emergency food services cobbled together by charitable organizations.
One of the charities helping feed the hungry is Maryhouse.
So what’s available to these people?
Through Maryhouse, they can access a two-day ration of food every four weeks.
But demand was overwhelming the organization.
So, since August, Maryhouse has been forced to scale back its food service. It’s now open only two days a week, down from three.
And every five weeks, people can get a three-day supply of food from the Salvation Army.
In Whitehorse that’s the ceiling. A five-day supply of food every five weeks.
A food bank would help bolster those provisions, said Peter Becker, a consultant working with the anti-poverty coalition.
Such a facility could handle extra food collected after conventions and other large public events.
And it could distribute the food, freeing up the other volunteer service organizations to do more one-on-one work with people.
But there has been no public discussion between city and territorial politicians about the need for a food bank.
It’s not on the radar.
They’ve been focused on the Canada Games.
Of course, tremendous benefits have been derived from the national diversion — there have been more local jobs, territorial tax revenue has increased and the Yukon pulled tens of millions of dollars from federal coffers that it otherwise would not have been able to access.
As a result, we now have incredible sporting venues and some pretty apartments.
But, as noted, that cash infusion has led to inflation. There are fewer places to rent, and the prices have gone up.
In Whitehorse, shelter trumps food. People put out for rent and they eat less.
That’s made it harder for those on the edge.
Sure, the Games will raise the territory’s profile. People in Toronto might understand the place a little better.
And that’s what those community leaders planning the Games seize on. They talk about the long-term legacy.
Alright — but can you name where the last Canada Winter Games were held? How about the one before that?
Meanwhile, just a few blocks from Atco Place, that temporary million-dollar tent on Second Avenue, people are lining up for soup.
Others are waiting for their monthly ration of a couple of days’ worth of canned beans and pasta.
That problem has been quietly passed along for decades by politicians unwilling to act.
The Games have demonstrated the capacity of the community to put on something grand.
It’s time it put more effort into reducing poverty and hunger.
Besides, alleviating those problems offers community leaders a shot at a tangible legacy. (RM)