Monday, February 01, 2010

Vancouver's effort to balance poor neighborhood media coverage

With the Winter Olympic Games coming to Vancouver, Canada later this month, many journalists from around the world will be telling their home audiences about life in the city. Game organizers and city officials fear that the foreign press will do stories about the poor neighborhoods in Vancouver that will give a negative image of the city.

In an effort to balance the media coverage, the city has opened an information center about the city's poor Downtown Eastside area. The kiosk talks about the many social services available and the history of the area. However, many advocates of the poor call the center a propaganda machine and are planing a protest for the foreign journalists to see.

From the Vancouver Sun, writer Lori Culbert looked at both opinions of the information center.

“Someone can write a negative story by taking a picture of someone in a doorway, but we have some things to celebrate,” Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said Friday.

The centre, which has a budget of about $150,000, is full of details about social housing, outreach programs and support services. Coleman said he hopes reporters will take away the message that B.C. “is facing the issue [of homelessness] head-on,” and is focusing on integrating services to try to keep people off the streets.

About 35 non-profit organizations that do important work in the community – such as initiatives involving clothing, meals, addictions treatment and harm reduction – will have representatives at the centre.

However, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) and a half dozen other community groups are planning a protest outside the office doors today, dismissing the centre as a “propaganda kiosk.”

“This is government spin-doctoring,” said CCAP’s Wendy Pedersen.

As an example, Pedersen said, the groups want to expand on a wallboard in the centre stating that “homelessness is a complex problem that is the result of years of abuse, addictions, and/or mental illness.”

What the board doesn’t say, she added, is that government policies involving welfare rates and social-housing construction are also key culprits.

It won’t be clear until the throngs of media arrive in Vancouver whether international reporters will even bother with the centre, which is not visible from the sidewalk, but located in a courtyard in the Woodward’s development.

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