Homeless risk attack in Tokyo

A new survey by a nonprofit organization has found that about 40 percent of homeless people in Tokyo have had the experience of being attacked or threatened on the street.

The Independent Life Support Center Moyai, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Japan’s poverty-stricken, interviewed homeless people and found that their conditions are made worse by the constant threat of cruel and violent attacks.

The homeless people interviewed were on average about 60 years old, but 40 percent of the respondents said the attackers were either children or youths, usually with at least two perpetrators. Some of them were assaulted with fireworks, steel pipes or other objects, while others were punched and kicked. They also suffered verbal abuse and threats, and often had their possessions set on fire.

According to the metropolitan government, Tokyo officially had 1,768 homeless people as of January. Some NPOs and independent researchers place the number in the nation’s capital as high as 5,000. The real figure is difficult to determine, since homelessness can range from a temporary situation to relative permanence.

Whatever the figures, like all Japanese, homeless people deserve full protection for their possessions and person. Article 25 of Japan’s Constitution states, “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” This applies to the homeless as much as everyone else.

Tokyo is the wealthiest city in the world in terms of gross domestic product. That homelessness continues at all in such a rich metropolis is shameful. With Tokyo producing so much wealth, more funding and attention should be given to those without. If a society can be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members, attacks on the homeless drops the perception of Tokyo even lower.

The homeless need help. Finding a decent job without a consistent employment record or recommendations can be difficult to impossible. What work is available is unstable and poorly paid. Finding an apartment is equally out of reach for many, as they have no one to serve as guarantor when signing a lease. The bottom rung of the economic ladder is too high for many of these people.

Both the national and local governments need to help fund programs to get homeless people into better living conditions. If the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is going to raise the consumption tax again, earmarking a small portion of that revenue to take care of the homeless — who consume almost nothing at all — would be easy. If not, let’s try for funding from other sources. Sufficient support is necessary to help get the homeless in stable situations.

People who attack the homeless should be prosecuted. The police must work with the homeless to find those committing these crimes. Attacking the homeless should be condemned as heartless. Taking care of its most vulnerable members is an obligation that every society should respect.