Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

The restlessness of the end of the year mixed with the echo of the Christmas feasts is still felt through the town at the time of the winter gathering at the Sankaku public park of Nishinari's district that already started over a month ago.
The temperature in Osaka since the beginning of the year has often come down to below zero degrees centigrade. Adding to this the fact that influenza has spread furiously, this winter has become very severe.
Special legislation to promote the self-support of homeless people has been implemented this winter and the city of Osaka has also just inaugurated a self-support-backing center in a public park at Osaka's castle. And although such measures were expected to better the situation in which homeless people have been forced to live, in fact the conditions remain almost the same this year.
The reasons for this are that the concrete enforcement of the special legislation will start from the Year 2004 and Osaka City has taken a wait-and-see attitude till then. It is true that homeless people are now legally protected from unjust evictions from parks and other public places. Nevertheless, with regard to employment opportunities, due to the great financial difficulties Osaka is facing, there are no signs that a supplementary budget will be adopted for emergency policies, less for the adoption of a public employment system. At last, the special quota for scavengers has only increased from 218 to 20 more persons. On the other hand, those recorded at the special cleaning company have only the opportunity of working there three times a month per person. It is a policy similar to a drop of water on a burnt stone.
Since the opening of the center to promote self-support about 400 persons have been accepted and nearly 40% of them could find daily jobs, but only 14, far less than 10%, found employment. The results are that many people went back to a homeless life.
Such information spreads widely among the homeless by word of mouth and the numbers of those living outside, surrounding the self-support center, remain unchanged the same as the ones by the shelter built in Nagai Park. People continuing their homeless life by the self-support center who were gathering used cans told me the reasons why they continue such a life, in spite of the opening of the new center: "No matter the center, if, after all, nothing changes then we have to start all over again. No work to do and we spend hours and months totally uselessly." I could hear the same remarks in the vicinity of the Nagai Park: "No change from last year. Isn't true that only the city and the constructors have got work for them?" Some homeless people continued saying, "No change at all.
Those living in the parks build their shacks with blue tents and scrap wood; they stay there for long without much change in their living conditions. They neither easily stop such a life nor waste their time. I feel that they are determined to protect themselves. But on the other hand, the cold goes on mercilessly, early morning and late in the evenings.
The life conditions of homeless people, through the streets in town, give an image that homeless people have not become better off and their numbers have not decreased. They are visible in the business districts as soon as the shutters are pulled down, making shelters with corrugated cardboard to pass the nights there. Many are seen in the business districts around Kamagasaki, Tennoji and Namba.
A homeless person that always passes the nights in business districts told me, while spreading a blanket on cardboard and hiding himself there under his shelter made of cardboard, "this winter season is really severe. Even with all this I still feel cold." When one touches the ground a kind of fresh air passes over one's head and it feels like iced pavement. In fact, that day the ground was frozen. Some were sleeping under the open sky and others were gathering cans and cardboard in the middle of a cold night. Realizing that the situation has not changed at all, I deeply felt that official policies have not been implemented.
And as a result of public discontent struggle movements continue. Practically every day 300 people participate in sits down to negotiate jobs for self-support, half employment and half public assistance, so that they can better their severe life conditions. This time is a rigorous winter season for all those forced to live homeless, as well as for those participating in the struggle and it will continue till March when the cherry blossoms announce the coming of autumn. (31 January 2003)

Demand for emergency assistance:
Blankets, Clothing and Food.
Please, contact
- The "Scavengers' Center": Tel.06-6647-103
- "Kamagasaki's Daily Workers Trade Union Liaison Office: Tel.06-6632-4723
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