Social and Pastoral BulletinNo. 90 15 Jun.1999
1. New Action Taken by the Homeless in Shibuya (Tokyo)
In the last issue of this bulletin I introduced "NOJIREN", the Shibuya Free Association for Right to Housing and Well-being of the Homeless. Since I was not able to do it before, I would like now to report on some new developments of that organization. During the past 6 months, the "homeless companions" of Shibuya have gone through drastic changes in their awareness and action. Those changes brought with themselves possibilities of new horizons that had never been visible in other Japanese movements of daily workers and homeless groups. The homeless of Shibuya concentrated mainly, up to last year, on building up mutual companionship through soup kitchen activities and night patrolling. United they confronted the administration and obtained some results for their companions, like stopping compulsory evictions, getting social-welfare assistance, and obtaining public support on medical, welfare and job seeking. The start of group camping, since the end of last year, enlightened them more. From there, unexpectedly, their companionship grew stronger and new self-autonomous endeavors, based on community links, sprouted actively. In other words, since the administration and the established social structures do not have any program of assistance for the homeless so that they could get housing and jobs, the homeless themselves, continuing their struggle against the public authorities without just waiting for their action, decided on totally new creative ways to build their own shelters and jobs.
|Let me introduce here some concrete programs that have just started to
The new endeavors concentrate on assistance given to job seeking. These are projects not only to assist those seeking jobs within already established systems, but they also include new jobs to be created. Such projects want to stick to community awareness and aim at strengthening creative thinking.
It is very difficult for a homeless person, even in his/her 20s, to find a fixed job with weekly or monthly wages. But even in the event of finding a job, it is usually unimaginable for us to guess how difficult it would be for a homeless person to go to work every day from the street. Again, wages will be paid at the end of the week or of the month, and the homeless can not afford to pay for their own meals, not even transportation to the work site. In fact, it is quite difficult for them to find any money to pay the transport costs for job seeking. Actually, when a companion finds a daily job or if some of them makes a profit from his/her business, they put aside part of it as a community reserve fund for the creation of jobs, and from such a fund they already started to lend money for transportation for job seeking. Properly speaking this is a type of micro-projects (small savings, credit unions) quite popular in the third world. At the end of May, they started the "barrack concept", in order to provide a warm welcome to the community to those coming back from errand-type dull work, and to soften the burden of those commuting to work from the street.
|The "barrack concept" consists of building, by themselves, strong
houses, not with tents, but with wood and iron pipes in the middle of Yoyogi
park. They are built mainly by young companions in such a way that they
are able to dismantle them every month when they are forcibly evicted.
By May 18 they already built 4 big houses.
They created new jobs, like making lunches and cakes (there are among them professional cooks) and sold them at various public gatherings; planning free markets and raising profits from leasing a site and selling goods collected by companions who stroll around the streets looking for materials that can still be used. Up to now, the profits are insignificant but, when those companions who were made to believe that they are useless start to take action together with other colleagues, little by little, they can recover the dignity they have lost as human persons. And no matter what people think, the process of undertaking a common trial is, by itself, excitingly enjoyable. (I am also enjoying such experiences with them.)
In fact, no matter how insignificant the profits are, since, as I mentioned above, they are the ones to administer the funds, the results are big.
|To the trials mentioned above it should be added that they are planning
to undertake everything, from taking care of pets and walking them around
to cleaning households, something that homeless people in England already
do, and to produce a magazine on the homeless, so that only homeless people
could sell it. Again, under a contract already made with a farm in Yamanashi
prefecture, some companions went there together to help with the harvest
during busy times. This has created possibilities for future interesting
developments. In other words, those who went to work in the farm of Yamanashi
found a piece of land of about 300 tsubo, idle for lack of farmers and
spoke to the land owner, in hope of having "nojiren" renting
it as a community farm for the homeless.
In summary, as a result of the group camping action, "nojiren" was able to create substantial new changes oriented towards self-reliance of the homeless, that differ from the proposals for autonomy --rehabilitation as lower-ranked workers-- of the administration. The task ahead is how to continue fostering these efforts, without destroying the results.
| I think that there is a lot to be learned from the housing movement developed
by Asian squatters for the last 30 years. This movement gives an inspiration
on how to foster the small results accomplished by the homeless, and how
to integrate and join them, suitably, with the movement of confronting
the administration. In fact, during the last 30 years, the Asian housing
movement developed from a process of experiences similar to those "nojiren"
is now having, and although the movement experiences failures and various
kinds of tensions that arise from different stands, lots of good results
have, already, been obtained.
Going briefly through the main events, during the 70s the most important action consisted of a confrontation with the public officials in order to oppose compulsory eviction of the people living in slums and using illegal land. People built communities to fight together the administration. This is called "community organization confrontation type". During the 80s two new currents appeared. One of them, called "the movement for social integration", cooperates closely with the administration and by using its various resources moves into the betterment of housing environment. But, if the government does not act, then the homeless themselves, without waiting longer for an integration with the established systems, deploy totally new ways. This has been known as " the movement for autonomous space and structures".
In the following lines, quoting Prof. Hosaka Mitsuhiko of Japan Welfare University, I will further explain the new trends.
2. Developments of the Housing Movement in Asia
2-1 The Community Organization Confrontation Type
The Housing Movement has gone trough much change during the last 25 years. During the 70s, Alinsky's confrontation type of community organization was the leading accepted pattern for the Asian Housing Coalition Movement. The movement consisted in sending trained organizers into the slums, to make slum dwellers reflect on the main issues of their lives and organize them to solve their problems. Then, make them confront the public administration with definite clear targets and open their eyes to the need of much bigger social changes. This movement obtained relocation sites for the people of Tondo (Manila), from the Filipino government as a result of their forced eviction to make place for public economic development of Tondo. In Hong Kong boat people were relocated into public housing, and in Bombay the movement obtained from the Indian government the betterment of the lives of the people living in the Dahravi slums, the largest in the world. But in many countries once the dictatorships in favor of development showed signs of some compromise, this movement specialized in "organizing, confrontation, demands and results", came to be placed on a back burner.
2-2 Movement for Social Integration
|An important political issue at the time was the social reintegration of
the slum dwellers who had been put aside by urban economic growth. Since
they were allowed a specific space within the public plans, the people
prepared their organizations to receive those official programs, and, using
positively the new structures, moves promoting the betterment of their
housing facilities could be observed. The task of the ngos supporting them
was to see that the poor, as citizens in general who had remained under
oppression, could make use of the established financial institutions and
could get public recognition as citizens. Ngos strengthened their organizations
and directed them to support the people.
Typical cases are the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) legalized in 1988 in the Philippines, and the Urban Community Development Organization (UCDO) founded in 1992 in Thailand for the urban poor. For instance, the CMP target was to link the formal financial sector with the squatters, representatives of the informal sector, so that they could also get access to housing. Many ngos at that time assisted the poor communities.
2.3 Movement for autonomous space and structures
|his could be called, a new self-help movement to build an autonomous space,
without waiting to be integrated by the established system.
Karachi's Orangi water drainage works are really symbolic. Totally opposed to the official master plan for urbanization that delineated arterial drainage first, with different branch lines to be constructed functionally later, the Orangi slum dwellers contributed money themselves and started to better their alleys, extending little by little their work to a water drainage network that covered their whole town. Without waiting for the corrupted administration to do something, they themselves searched for a solution. The citizens set foot in a field of work that was considered to be the administration's and the moment they could show their capability of self-autonomy, they, for the first time, gave signs that a change had occurred in the unequal relationship between the citizens and the authorities. Why the need to wait for the authorities to do something? It is all right to make a start now. That was the message from Orangi.
A similar case is the women's bank of Sri Lanka, where a particular financial program was started outside the present financial structures. That was not just the result of negative causes, like the fact that established commercial banks and official financial institutions are not oriented towards the poor.
|Of course, the initial motive was there, but there were several positive
reasons that explain the background of why similar programs continue to
be as popular as ever in most countries that have accepted them. The most
important reason being that people feel as their own structures built by
themselves. The solid sense that one's own and one's companion's money
stays here, now controlled by oneself, and that the money I paid back is
being used by some other companion, gives support to the best financial
3. Learning from the experiences of the Asian Housing Movement
|In such a situation, when those people get in contact with other slum dwellers
that, while living in similar situations, act with autonomy getting some
power, they also get helped. This is called, "exchange of experiences
among companions". In other words, they get to think that what the
others do, they, themselves, can also do. In the case of Shibuya, since
there is no other place in Japan showing a model, it might be quite difficult
at the beginning. There is a possibility of learning from exchanges with
people of Asian slums, but, on the other hand, it seems to me that the
situations are quite different. Nevertheless, if the experiences in Shibuya
are successful, they will certainly become a good example to encourage
other homeless in Japan.
(2) A joint community movement is very important to build a new society. Looking at Asian realities one can find two main factors that weaken community union. One is a feeling of despair, because of lack of visible results, that originates from continuous struggles against the overwhelming power of the administration. Community union gets weak as the homeless in Shibuya experienced last year. The second factor is that, in fighting with the administration some successful results are obtained and as a result, the pressure threatening their daily existence weakens and since their situation becomes somehow lukewarm, community union tends to weaken. In other words, a confrontation-type movement can hardly keep alive community joint efforts. That is why according to Asian experience, the movement for autonomy and self-organization produces a big impact. It can also be very attractive for strengthening community.
| (3) The movement that tries to become autonomous tends to be usually criticized
by both, the confrontation and the social integration types. This is because
those who are in the weakest sectors, not being able to obtain autonomy,
will be left aside and this will result in divisions. Such criticism is
well founded. What is really needed is solidarity in both types of action,
in such a way that the "companions" of the movement aiming at
autonomy and getting visible results breakaway, as much as possible, from
a selfish attitude and look after those who are left in a much worst situation.
If those companions who are already in the right path for autonomy fall
in selfish and restricted situations, then the movement they are fostering
very often ends in failure.
I would like to end by stressing that one must be aware of some special characteristics of the Japanese situation. I want to mention 4 main differences.
1) Homeless in Japan are usually single men.
2) Except those living in public parks and at the river sides, the rest are not living in fixed places or in sites fit for building up communities.
3) The financial situation is quite different from other Asian squatters. People of Asian slums have never had in their life much money; some among them, continuing saving just 10 or 20 yen, are able to control by themselves their savings and this gives them a strong confidence, so much that by organizing saving groups they can strengthen the community links.
|But in the case of Japan, homeless people have been, since childhood, accustomed
to see big money as they do even now, and if they are lucky to get a job
they easily can get 5,000 yen a day. As a result, doubt remains whether
saving groups of people, putting constantly aside small savings, could
develop into a real community.
4) The last point is the issue of community awareness in Japanese society.
Japan, in the process of high economic growth, deserted in many regions
such community awareness. Under such circumstances, efforts to renew community
building will not be easy at all.
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Peter Masatsugu Shimokawa