Olympics offer opportunities for city’s low-income people and neighborhoods

Supporters of “No Boston Olympics,” the group opposing the games in Boston, say going for the gold will cost too much and channel resources away from community development and anti-poverty initiatives. They fear a loss of focus and revenue for housing and homelessness, early education and youth programs, job development, substance abuse issues, and senior programs. They cite rising numbers of children in poverty and an increasing income disparity between rich and poor.

Every day at ABCD, we see the challenges faced by Boston’s low-income residents. We see Head Start parents who work two jobs to support their families, fuel assistance programs with full waiting rooms, and our two alternative high schools overflowing with disadvantaged, at-risk youth. During this past summer, 101 teenagers out of the 1,300 involved in the ABCD SummerWorks program were homeless.

I’ve been at this a long time, but I never saw that before.

Boston desperately needs to expand investments in affordable housing, job development, early childhood education, energy programs, youth initiatives, public schools, and more. So why would I support bringing the Summer Olympics to Boston?

Because Boston has the leadership and ingenuity and sheer moxie to make an Olympic plan work for all members of the community, including our low-income residents and neighborhoods.

Says Mayor Marty Walsh: “Our goal is to host an Olympic and Paralympic games that are innovative, walkable, and hospitable to all.” I see involvement of community representatives in the development and execution of an Olympic blueprint that channels the Olympic spirit into hope and opportunity for all residents.

There are plans to create an Olympic Village to house athletes at the former Bayside Expo grounds. Those units could later be converted to affordable apartments in which homeless families currently housed in motels and shelters could live in dignity, near public transportation, and with access to work opportunities, affordable child care, and a world-class university. Perhaps developers could get started now creating affordable housing as an incentive to Olympic contracts.

Other possibilities include:

• Youth from all of Boston’s neighborhoods working in auxiliary jobs where they are trained, mentored, and supervised by Olympic staff members;

• Job-training programs that prepare adult workers from low-income neighborhoods for Summer Olympics positions requiring skills that are transferable to the business, construction, and hospitality industries;

• School-age youngsters creating written and visual art on Olympic history and culture, spreading the Olympic spirit that has been carried down from the ancient Greek city-states to our Boston Strong neighborhoods.

Such projects fit the officially sanctioned “Olympic Spirit” program of the International Olympic Committee with its mission of building “...a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit, which requires mutual understanding and a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.”

Together we can create a Summer Olympics that is a world model of the Olympic Spirit and a lasting legacy of peace and opportunity for all residents of our city.

John J. Drew is the President/CEO of Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), the Boston-area antipoverty organization serving more than 100,000 low-income persons annually.