|Kamagasaki, as well as the realities surrounding the day workers living
in the town, has just entered the new year 2000, remaining substantially
unchanged. I will try to review here, again, the events of the last year
in the yoseba of Kamagasaki, in order to offer my reflections on which
are our main commitments to better the situation of the workers in Kamagasaki.
Homeless people in Osaka City account for more than ten thousand, about half of the probable total homeless population in Japan. On February 12, 1999, due to the sudden increase of homeless persons, official bodies started discussions on the "problems of the homeless" at national levels.
But, just in the process of the official discussions, Osaka's Major Isomura stated that many homeless people are rather "nameless", because they do not give out their names and, as a result, they are not eligible for welfare assistance. Thus, new legislation that empowers official competence to check on the identity of the persons seems advisable. Such a statement made us recognize that there is not much hope in the content of those national discussions.
|On May 26, 1999, national policies concerning the problems of the homeless
were declared. Nevertheless, looking at the content, the policies avoided
basic issues, such as, "official employment", "improvement
policies to make use of national welfare" and "guarantee of housing".
On the one hand, officials positively avoid fundamental issues, and as one can guess from the official provisional programs, they divide the homeless into three categories. As for those homeless persons who refuse to adapt to social life, the programs incorporate the public right to evict them.
We still keep fresh remembrances of the enforced eviction conducted in Kamagasaki by the city of Osaka on December 28, 1998. Such incidents have occurred in many other localities, but, as a consequence of the policies made public, there is serious concern that compulsory removals of homeless people, by local governments, will be officially recognized.
On 18 October 1995 a young people dropped into the river Mr. Fujimoto Makio, a 63-year old worker of Kamagasaki. As a result, Mr. Fujimoto died. We can never forget such an incident in all our lives.
|But even now, the harassment and the attacks of young people on the homeless
continue. On 13 June 1998, some youths attacked a homeless person living
in a tent in Nishinomiya, next to Kamagasaki, and as a result, one of the
youths got killed. The court gave its decision on 27 October 1999 to the
accused homeless man: "10-year penal servitude" (12 years were
asked by the prosecutors). The fact is that such incidents are not going
to come to an end, no matter what court decisions are given. The incident
shows, though, that unless the public administration makes responsible
overall policies, based on the causes of homelessness, similar incidents
will continuously happen.
How did Osaka prefecture and the City handle the rapid expansion of homeless persons in their own territory, in 1999? If I may pick up some of the more important changes, I would mention the following: extravagant short-term shelters, expansion of care centers ( from 20 persons to 170), expansion of special street cleaning works for elder people, as a result of the establishment of the new NPO "Kamagasaki Assistance Organization" that handles them.
But, if one takes the point of view that, "everybody should be guaranteed a minimum level of healthy and cultural life", then one is forced to recognized that the present official policy of Osaka, both the Prefecture and City, are inadequate.
Similar to Kamagasaki, Mr. Hayashi Katsuyoshi, homeless worker of Sasashima yoseba, filed a suit against Nagoya City on May 9 1994 for retracting his welfare assistance. Nevertheless, he died of sickness, on October 22 1999, when he was 61 years old.
The suit Mr. Hayashi filed exerted a big influence for future law suits from yosebas, from all over the country, in the fight of homeless persons to obtain social welfare. Above all, the complete victory of Mr. Hayashi, on the first hearing, greatly encouraged yoseba workers who are pushed to the streets, not only in Nagoya but from all over the country, because of the unfair ways local administrations enforce the National Assistance Act.
Again, in Kamagasaki, on December 2, 1998, Mr. Sato filed an action against the administration concerning social welfare assistance practices. Such legal action would have been impossible without taking into consideration Mr. Hayashi's suit.
Mr. Sato's law suit consists of the following: Mr. Sato Kunio, a day worker of Kamagasaki forced to live on the streets, made an application for social welfare when he was 65 years old. He filed an action against the City and Prefecture of Osaka and the City's rehabilitation free center that implements social welfare in Kamagasaki, totally refusing to provide aid to people living in apartments.
|Mr. Sato had been interned twice, in the past, in centers, but due to his
difficulties in hearing, he could not easily communicate with people. As
an inevitable result, he left the center and went back to his former homeless
life. In October 1998, Mr Sato applied to the rehabilitation free center
for social welfare, living in an apartment. But, the center decided, all
by itself, to send him to a shelter, without considering either the reasons
he had to quit former shelters, or the possibilities of giving social assistance
while living in an apartment. Mr. Sato took legal action, after objecting
to the decision to put him in a shelter.
In the first trial (25 February 1999) Mr. Sato stated: "The file suit is not only for myself. My hope is that, by this legal action, many of my companions - even one only will be enough - who are forced to lead homeless lives, will receive social welfare aid living in apartments or in cheap doyas (inns)." The trial continues with the calling of witnesses and is reaching its crucial point. It is a trial that cannot be lost, in order to carry on, also, the will of the deceased Mr. Hayashi.
|Social welfare, as a norm, is received by those who have a fixed place to
live. Matters differ in Kamagasaki. The free rehabilitation center there
that handles official welfare for daily workers, provides only, shelter
assistance in centers or hospitals, even now. Nevertheless all such institutions
are working over capacity, and whenever homeless Kamagasaki daily workers
visit the free rehabilitation center, their problems are not taken seriously.
Again, even when the workers enter the centers, so many of them are pushed
in that they can not enjoy privacy and they get extremely tired because
of their worries with regard to disturbing others. The free rehabilitation
center does not take care of the workers interned in the shelters, on the
contrary, it makes them get out as soon as possible. The workers, as a
result, become exhausted and are practically pushed to leave and go back
again to homelessness.
The direct reason for the sudden increase of homeless people all over the country today, is, without doubt, unemployment and the long continuation of the business slump.
|Nevertheless, more fundamentally speaking, there is a heavy responsibility
upon official bodies established to safeguard the implementation of "a
minimum standard of a healthy and cultural life." Welfare official
centers that are scattered all over the country need to give account of
the careless ways they implement the National Assistance Act with regard
to homeless people. First of all, although the free rehabilitation center
in Kamagasaki is a typical case, it is not the only one. I feel the need
to fight against all social welfare centers, with regard to the implementation
of the National Assistance Act for the homeless, so that welfare assistance
is properly enforced.
The homeless and their supporters participated in a national rally against unemployment in Tokyo, on 16 October 1999 to confront the national policies for the homeless, based on "internship and enforced eviction."c
Forty participants from Kamagasaki, together with 600 companions from all over Japan reaffirmed their solidarity at a national level and voted for a one year program to confront the moves of the country. In other words, with the recognition that, not only in yosebas, but in many other places also homeless people exist, there is an increasing need for a national solidarity network and for stronger involvement. At the same time, all of the homeless must rise up and, showing their anger, must take action demanding the improvement of their own situations. The homeless must act themselves as the actors to provoke change.
As can be observed in the new legislation passed at the Diet on the bill concerning "Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation" or the "National Flag and Anthem," the power-holders in this country try, by all means, to keep in those positions which are the base of their powers.
|Upon reflecting such realities, we can never expect comprehensive policies
that aim at improving the situations of homeless people in the future,
supplanting the national policies I mentioned before.
We, the supporters of the homeless, must be well aware that the right for survival of homeless people is a victory that ultimately only each one of the homeless themselves is able to win by fighting for it.
I think that we supporters also, must continue our action in Kamagasaki and other yosebas, so that all homeless people rise up themselves with anger to improve their own situations.
After the economic bubble collapsed, various groups and individuals have come to Kamagasaki and continue making earnest efforts to improve the situation of the homeless. It is a pity, though, that such efforts are not yet bringing concrete results for an overall improvement of the situation.
This does not mean that one must compromise with the moves of the present administrations. We wish to continue in Kamagasaki our supportive activities,
|always standing for the homeless, respecting the right of survival each
one of them possesses. I feel that, from now on, there is no other way
open to us but, to continue tenaciously our commitment, making the best
of national links, as well as increasing solidarity networks with other
groups and private individuals.
The year 2000 just started and this is going to be a time when the nation will launch substantial policies with regard to preparing for war, in a way that "peace" remains in reality a "nominal expression." And since these are the realities we are living in now, action to safeguard the survival of of the homeless, the weakest ones in society, must be strengthened in the future. Unless we do that, it is not an exaggeration to state that there is no future for this country.
(17 January 2000)