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What if D.C. made an Olympic effort to end poverty?

By Mark Bergel,

Many of us have been glued to the television over the past week as we watch extraordinary athletes compete in this summer’s Olympic Games. Like competitions of the past, the London Olympics are not only the result of hard work on the part of the athletes but also of remarkable community support and financial investments. I can only imagine that if the District, instead of London, had been selected 10 years ago as the site of the 2012 Games, our city would have made a similar commitment: building grand stadiums, housing and feeding thousands of athletes and putting on a show worthy of the world stage.

So here’s my question: If we were prepared as a community to mobilize the region’s resources and fund the premier athletic event in the world, why can’t we make the same commitment to house our homeless neighbors, feed hungry families and clothe young and old in our community? If our local government and the private sector were prepared to provide beds, healthy meals and showers for athletes from around the world, why do so many among us not have a bed, a healthy meal or a shower?

Imagine the effort and expense our city would have undertaken to house 10,000 athletes, or the infrastructure improvements necessary to support the Games. Imagine these resources being invested in ending the hunger, homelessness and poverty that exist in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

Consider the costs of putting on the Olympics:

Approximately 14 million meals will be served during the 60-day stretch before, during and after the London Olympics. Imagine if we provided that many meals to the thousands of residents of our region who are at risk of hunger.

It costs billions to host the Summer Olympics, and a fraction of this amount would abolish hunger in the District, which costs the city $360 million each year in lost economic productivity, avoidable health-care costs and the cost of charity to keep families fed.

●If the District built even a small fraction of the 40,000 apartments constructed for the London Olympics, we could provide homes to thousands and thousands of children and adults in our region who currently do not have an address.

●Sydney — home to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games — spends $30 million a year to maintain its 90,000-seat Olympic Stadium 12 years after that torch was extinguished. Imagine if, instead of maintaining a stadium, the D.C. region dedicated $30 million annually toward improving neglected schools and neighborhoods.

Housing and feeding the neediest in our community is not a matter of funding; it is a matter of priorities – and will. Ten years ago, our community made a commitment to build an Olympic Village. We made a commitment to provide the world’s athletes with everything they needed to succeed. Is it asking too much to do the same for the most vulnerable in our region?

To be sure, it will take an Olympian effort to end poverty. But I am convinced it can be done if we, as a community, channel the same hard work, discipline and commitment that we see in our top athletes. Let the effort begin.

The writer is founder and executive director of A Wider Circle.

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