Popularity, costs doom city’s meals for homeless

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Kawasaki will gradually abolish its program of feeding homeless people over the next few years, municipal officials said Wednesday.

The city has been running an innovative food aid program for the homeless since 1994, when it began with the distribution of food stamps that were redeemable for bread. The program has evolved to the point that now about 600 people receive two boxed meals a day.

But the municipal office said it will phase out the program because it has drawn homeless people from other municipalities, creating a financial burden for the cash-stripped city. They said more than 1,000 homeless people currently live in the city.

To whittle down the number of recipients, the city will set eligibility criteria for the food aid and screen applicants more carefully, they said.

City figures show that 618 people on average received daily meals last year, up 14 percent from a year earlier. Last month, a record daily average of 667 people lined up within the compound of the city’s public gym, where city officials distribute the two daily meals each morning.

In an interview aired on satellite TV last week, Kawasaki Mayor Takao Abe said the program has become too much of a burden for a municipality to shoulder.

The city budgeted 91 million yen for the project this fiscal year, down 35 percent from 140 million yen in fiscal 2003.

The mayor said the aid program runs contrary to the health ministry’s policy of urging local governments to help homeless people get back on their feet.

The officials said Kawasaki wants to use the money on programs to boost the independence of homeless people, such as the temporary shelter the city opened in May near JR Kawasaki Station to help homeless people find jobs.