FROM THE KEIHIN REGION (36) Continuous Fight for Survival at Kamagasaki
[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No.153 / Feb. 15, 2010 ]

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
Back in 2004 I wrote an article in this Bulletin about Kamagasaki. Since then the situation there has changed greatly.
When one walks through Kamagasaki town, public notices about social security strike the eye. The former "doya," or cheap rest houses, have given way to welfare apartments for people receiving public assistance and day-care centers for old-age people have increased along the main street.
Formerly, after working and receiving their daily earnings workers filled shops and food-and-drink counters, but these days shops and restaurants serve pensioners and welfare recipients. I felt that this indicated a great economic change.
The economic recession continues and the number of homeless, especially old-age people, has greatly increased. The town looks much different now, and just by walking around you can see many more old-age persons than in former times.
During the 1960s and 80s the town was frequently the scene of big riots widely covered by the mass-media, especially at the end of the year. That gave the place the image of a town where day laborers fought one another. I heard that in 2008 another riot broke out, but people say that its size was limited and that it was nothing in comparison with former riots.
My feeling was that, no matter what the size of future riots may be, it will become a matter of great social concern if people have to fight for survival. The issue, then, will be public assistance. The number of public welfare receivers has increased and, consequently, the budget cost for Osaka City has increased to the point of creating a financial crisis. As a result, the City's administration has raised the level of hurdles for receiving public assistance.
TLet me offer an example. A friend of mine, staff member of a volunteer NGO who accompanied a person to the City Hall to apply for public assistance, told me that there is the possibility of officials rejecting such applications by proxy. The reason given is to stop dishonest applications. Osaka City seems to be giving the largest amount, nation-wide, of public assistance and there are a number of businesses exploiting powerless people.
Administrative changes in handling applications imply that homeless people may be rejected from using a system that has supported their daily life up till now. Many living in difficult situations are not aware of the existence of public assistance and cannot avail themselves of the system. In such situations, NGO volunteer staff members will be needed to help them approach administration officials. However, volunteers now have misgivings regarding the official limitations mentioned above.
The issue is not limited to Kamagasaki alone. Many dispatched workers with broken contracts and the “working poor," no matter how eager they may be to apply for public welfare, are in fact rejected and obliged to go homeless. Thus, in many instances, even the applications cannot be registered.
As mentioned above, if competent volunteer staff members mediate between the homeless and administrative officials, it is sometimes possible to press officials to provide public assistance. But so many people are driven to homelessness that there are not enough volunteers to do the work. Walking around Kamagasaki town, I felt strongly the changes that have occurred there and received the impression that the struggle for future survival of those receiving public welfare assistance and their supporters will continue to escalate.
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