Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)
When the cold winter starts Christmas sales begin in all Japanese supermarkets and commercial centers. All the shops in Tennoji, one of the business quarters in Osaka, turn also on their Xmas illumination giving a year-end atmosphere.
Nevertheless, in the back of such a cheerful atmosphere of Tennoji, one has to walk just a few hundred meters along the Tennoji zoo to meet with the homeless living in tents or under the open skies. When one proceeds further into Shin Imanomiya station one can see the largest homeless town, Kamagasaki, with hundreds of daily workers.
The Xmas sales season means to Kamagasaki the start of a rigid cold winter. There is a new connotation this year, because during this winter season the Japanese politicians will pass a bill, concerning life assistance for the homeless.
The situation of Kamagasaki in winter has changed since 5 years ago when I was working in an institution inside the town. First of all, watching the people that wait in long lines for the soup kitchen at daytime, I felt that the number of soup kitchens has substantially increased. On the other hand, the cheerful groups of people sitting on the road and drinking sake have certainly diminished. Again, people with about 500 yen, their only income after selling the waste collected, make lines at the "Furusato no Ie" institution to cook 'instant ramen' at the facilities in the first floor.
Certainly, there is no work available. The lack of income makes people line up at the soup kitchens and when they have some little income they only eat the 'instant ramen' they can prepare at a small kitchen of an institution. The situation was such about 5 years ago that, there were only 1,000 jobs available for about 24,000 daily workers. But now, jobs decrease year after year.
Without work people cannot rent an apartment or a room in the 'doya', with the result that they must sleep out in the open without being able to get either new jobs or welfare aid. According to statistics of the Welfare Department 2 years ago, there were about 20,000 homeless in the country, although the real facts might be more than double those numbers. In Osaka alone, NGO and official statistic numbers differ much.
I already mentioned above that legislation to assist the homeless will pass in the Diet, but in the meantime, before that comes into effect, homeless people will have to survive through the coming winter.
The situation of homeless people during winter varies from place to place. The Self-Support Center of Osaka that assists homeless people to find jobs has 3 centers in Nagai Park and other sites of Higashi Sumiyoshi-ku. Nevertheless, only 280 persons, out of 10,000, would be able to pass the winter inside the centers. There is no more space available and the numbers of those who can get jobs is very limited.
There are also people that refuse to go to a center and prefer to continue living in tents. Even if they enter a center they cannot find places to work and they will be obliged to return to homelessness again. After leaving the place they have been settled in, it might happen that they are evicted and then it would be very difficult for them to return to a new homeless life. A senior person living under a tent mentioned to me that, even if he goes to a center, at his age he could not find work. At this moment he makes his living collecting waste. It is painful to continue living like that and he feels dreary, but there is nothing else that could be done, he says.
It is always very cold at night and people, staying in the alleys of the shops and storehouses, spread vinyl sheets under double cartoon boxes and cover themselves with a blanket. Some become fully equipped sleeping inside a big size cartoon box. I could see people collecting waste during late hours when there is no competition.
Groups assisting the homeless are much worried that this winter homeless people might be evicted on the pretext of the provisions of the new bill introduced now in the Diet, regarding assistance to the homeless. According to it, administration authorities of parks and roads are allowed to take measures they consider necessary.
The homeless and people living in tents are using public parks and streets and they will be affected by the new legislation. Since the business recession continues and unemployment has reached a historical height, Japan has finally started to act with legislation to help the homeless, but the unsolved issues are serious and winter is now at hand.
Finally, this winter in Kamagasaki will start with a public gathering in the Sankaku Park, right after the echoes of the Xmas feast on the 25th of December. This winter will be very hard for Kamagasaki residents.

Kopo Hanazono 101 2-6-14 Tenka Chaya Kita,
Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi, Postal Code 557-0003
Tel. / Fax 06-6634-8584

Blankets for the homeless
Seikatsu Doro Seiso Jimusho
1-9-27 Hagi no Chaya, Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi,
Postal Code 557-0004

Daily necessaries for winter
  *Winter Jacket *Sweater *Underwear for winter use
  *Socks (all these for men) *Soap *"Hokaron"
Tabiji no Sato
2-8-9 Hagi no Chaya, Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi,
Postal Code 557-0004

Let's participate in actions of Kyoyukai
  *Volunteers working in soup kitchen or night patrol
    (from Dec. 25 till the end of February)
Kamagasaki Kiristokyo Kyoyukai
2-8-9 Hagi no Chaya, Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi,
Postal Code 557-0004

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