100 homeless face shelter eviction

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff writer

Nearly 100 homeless people evicted from their cardboard shantytown near Shinjuku Station in February may have to vacate their current shelters this fall.

Agreements reached with reluctant local residents that have allowed them to stay at two temporary facilities in Shinjuku will expire in September and October, but so far only a handful of the occupants have landed jobs and are able to support themselves, welfare officials said.

Residents of the two lodging facilities — one in the Kita-Shinjuku district and the other in front of the gate to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden — were among hundreds of homeless who used to live in cardboard makeshift dwellings in an underground concourse at JR Shinjuku Station.

Four homeless were killed when a fire broke out in the concourse in February, and the metro government fenced off the area.

A total of 135 homeless people from the shantytown moved into the two temporary facilities after the fire, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has provided job counseling to help them become economically independent. But only 28 had found jobs as of Tuesday. “The current job market is very severe. Every janitorial job with good working conditions attracts about 20 applicants,” said Yoshimasa Fukutomi, a job counselor who has worked at the Kita-Shinjuku facility.

The nation’s unemployment rate hit a postwar high of 4.3 percent in June, surpassing the previous record of 4.1 percent in April and May, according to the Management and Coordination Agency.

Making matters worse, most of the former shantytown dwellers are in their 50s or older, and some have serious physical limitations after years of hard labor at construction sites. “In our interviews, many say they are exhausted from manual labor over the years. They say they want to land a job fitting for their age,” said Hatsuo Kudo, another counselor at the center. “But few companies seek workers older than 50.”

The business slump and old age are not the only problems keeping the homeless from finding their niche in society. Fukutomi of the Kita-Shinjuku center said several people at the center are reluctant to seek jobs because they want to hide from mounting debts and other specters of the past. These are often the very reasons they chose to desert their homes in the first place. “Some have lots of problems to solve before looking for a job, which we did not realize at first,” Fukutomi said. “It took a few months for them to open up to us.”

Six months at the centers is not enough time to solve such serious personal problems, he added. But local residents agreed to let the homeless use the two facilities only on condition that the accommodations would be temporary.

The Shinjuku Ward Office persuaded local residents to allow the homeless to stay in their communities, assuring them that most would find jobs or receive welfare and leave the facilities before September.