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Aichi NPO helps the homeless land work and get off welfare

Chunichi Shimbun

A program run by a nonprofit organization in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, to hire homeless people and help them get back on their feet is bearing fruit a year and a half after its inception.

Benriya, a group of handymen operated by the NPO Nowami’s support center, has hired some 360 homeless people since it launched its services in June 2011, offering odd jobs, including moving services, plumbing and mowing lawns, that are arranged by phone.

A 26-year-old homeless man worked for Benriya all of last August and earned several thousand yen each day as an assistant to carpenters. For some six years, the man had wandered around Aichi Prefecture, sometimes spending nights in Internet cafes when he could afford it.

When he visited Nowami’s support center, he had less than ¥100 to his name.

“I had no hope for the future, no will to work,” he said, recalling those desperate times.

But after laboring for Benriya for about a month, the man landed a job with a placement agency in September and has since been working at a construction site.

“I now feel that I have to work to support myself,” he said. His current aim is to save enough to rent an apartment.

Koji Egami, 68, who is in charge of allocating jobs at Benriya’s office, was once homeless himself. “Letting them buy just one toothbrush and a towel with their own money is a start. It helps them build confidence and leads them to be self-reliant,” he said.

When they first visit the support center, many of the homeless don’t have any money and have lost the will to work. The center aims to help them earn a wage and get them to stop depending on welfare.

Norikatsu Miwa, head of the NPO, said welfare is necessary for those who cannot work due to age or illness. “But easy dependence on welfare by those who are able to work not only eats up taxpayer money but also fuels feelings of guilt among welfare recipients,” he said.

Last year, 96 people, or about 80 percent, of those who visited the support center found work and managed to get off welfare.

The NPO has won praise from the municipal government, which isn’t equipped to quickly find jobs for the homeless. “Nowami support center’s program is essential to maintaining their willingness to work, because it’s difficult for administrative services alone to find jobs for them,” an official at Ichinomiya City Hall said.

Miwa said most homeless people want to become self-reliant. “It’s important for us to help reduce their anxiety and push them forward.”

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 21.