[Hpn] JAPAN homeless fear Government Plan = more Forced Relocation (fwd) (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Fri, 15 Dec 2000 13:24:14 -0800 (PST)

FWD  Asahi Evening News - December 15, 2000




The number of homeless people in JAPAN has grown so large that
local governments, unable to deal with the problem on their own,
have decided to join forces with the central government. But
some are questioning the authorities' motives.

In Tokyo alone, there were approximately 3,300 homeless people,
who lost homes in the wake of the asset-inflated bubble economy,
in 1994. That number soared to 5,700 this year.

The Health and Welfare Ministry recently announced its first
attempt to provide two temporary shelters for the homeless, from
where they could regain their motivation to work. But the facilities
will provide about 2,000 homeless people with nothing more than
a roof over their heads for six months, possibly in Tokyo and

Although the ministry has not set a budget for the project yet,
the shelters are intended to prepare street people to become
clients of six homeless support centers that provide more services
for landing jobs.

Some homeless people and their supporters, however, think the
shelter project is nothing more than a replay of the 1996 crackdown
on the homeless at Shinjuku Station. Yukio Aoshima, then Tokyo
governor, ordered police to evict people living in a passageway
at the station so the government could build a moving walkway.

``I oppose the government's plan straight up,'' said Kazuhiro
Ichizaki, a 52-year-old man who lives in a Shinjuku park. ``I
won't back down if the government is only building shelters to
lock up the homeless to clean up the streets, and has no support

Ministry officials have said they intend to deal with other
services as they become necessary.

A native of Hokkaido, Ichizaki fought back during the Shinjuku
eviction by throwing eggs at massed rows of security guards from
behind a two-meter-high barricade of tatami mats. When the police
stormed the barricade, the day laborer sprayed them with fire
extinguishers and joined a human chain with nearly 300 activists
and other homeless people from Nagoya, Osaka, Yokohama and other
cities. He said he is determined to fight again unless the government
offers other support services at the shelters.

The Tokyo metropolitan government set up a prefabricated house
in Shibaura, Minato Ward, in January 1996, to relocate the homeless
while the moving walkway was under construction. Built to house
172, the shelter was occupied by only the 79 residents who had
applied to live there, and it closed in June the same year, according
to the metropolitan government's Social Welfare Bureau.

``We hear that sleeping outside can damage one psychologically,
and we are thinking about human rights issues too,'' a ministry
official said. ``We know this won't be a quick solution to landing
a job or rebuilding a self-sufficient life. But we are hoping
for a start that they can get used to living under a roof, to
motivate them to work.''

The central government, meanwhile, formed a committee to address
the issue of the nation's 20,451 homeless people, an increasing
number of young homeless people and the employment of day laborers.

After studying the example of the Shibaura relocation shelter,
the metropolitan government and the ministry decided to jointly
develop a new, improved scheme.

The central government provided half of the 900 million yen
budgeted to help local governments open six support centers for
the homeless in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka this year. They are
also hoping to draw a link between the shelters and support centers
to help the homeless get back to ordinary lives and become self-sufficient.
The last center is to be completed in Osaka by the end of the
year, and is to be followed by five additional centers planned
for next year.

``We developed the support centers because we didn't think chasing
people out of the community would solve the problem,'' a Tokyo
municipal government official said.

Although the support centers provide meals, medical attention,
job referrals, in-house counseling and other help, in addition
to the daily necessities, people using them face numerous restrictions.

A center that opened in Shinjuku in mid-November provides beds,
meals and baths for about 50 homeless people who have been screened
at welfare offices in Tokyo's 23 wards.

``We know that this is not enough to put them back on their
feet. But we hope it will make them want to work and live independently,''
the ministry official said.

Residents at the Shinjuku center receive 400 yen per day to
cover the costs of the resumes, name seals and residency certificates
they need to apply for jobs. Although some complain about the
6 p.m. curfew and having to get a permit to stay out late, the
center also gives them clothes and rents out suits for job interviews.

Isamu Tada, 50, sleeps in a bunkbed in a room with six other
roommates at the center. Tada had been roaming the streets of
Ikebukuro since September, when his contract with the government's
emergency employment measures expired.

``Compared to the life on the streets, it's heaven and hell,''
Tada said.

Masami Iwata, a professor of social welfare at Japan Women's
University, thinks the government's latest plan to aid the homeless
is incomplete. In the past eight years, during which the homeless
population has increased drastically, she said, the government
has introduced no major support projects and has only come up
with upcoming shelter service.

``It's a small improvement, but unfortunately the new services
will not make the most of these facilities,'' Iwata said. ``Unless
the governments prepare themselves fully, the services will very
likely lead to a crackdown on the homeless.''

Iwata is concerned that the residents of the shelters and centers
will end up on the streets at the end of their two-month or six-month
terms. One of the biggest problems, she said, is finding employment.

Taichi Osawa (not his real name) is anxious about the possibility
of landing a job within the two-month period at a support center.
The chances are slim, Osawa said, with his 20 requests generating
only one interview. After lowering his salary expectations to
150,000 yen a month, he got an interview for the job of cook
at a nursing school. The result is still pending.
``I'm all for more centers like this,'' the 48-year-old, who
formerly worked in a factory assembling computer chips. ``People
are more hopeful in the center, and never spend a day without
doing something.''

But because the residents must focus on finding permanent jobs,
they are not allowed to work part-time while living in the center.

``This is the time we could save money, but we can't. How can
you save when you only get 400 yen a day? If I could, I'd be
working part-time to save some money,'' Osawa said.

Osawa began roaming the Shinjuku streets and sleeping in cardboard
boxes in 1997, when his work in the post-earthquake reconstruction
of Kobe ended.

``I am so worried about being thrown out on the streets when
I run out of time. We have gotten used to regular meals and baths
in the center and it will be harsh going back on the streets.
I somehow know when we get out, we will be left with no savings
to start out on.''


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