• Kyodo

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Provision for the homeless in Japan is “crude,” with more investment needed if the growing problem is to be addressed, according to a recent study by British experts.

They said the Japanese government should build more shelters to accommodate the estimated 25,000 people who sleep on the nation’s streets every day.

Japan also needs to provide more support to allow people in shelters to move on to full-time jobs and ultimately find permanent accommodations.

Rodney Hedley, one of the experts who visited various homeless projects in Osaka, Tokyo and Yokohama, said: “We were shocked to witness an advanced country such as Japan allowing so many cardboard cities to exist. From our view, we feel a major program of shelters/accommodations should be built.”

The team also felt that in many ways, Japan resembled Britain back in the early 1980s, when high unemployment led to homelessness becoming a political issue.

In 1997, the new Labor government under Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to address the issue and set up the Rough Sleepers Unit, with a £220 million investment program.

It was charged with reducing the number of people sleeping on the streets and led to the construction of more hostels and night shelters, as well as providing a support network to help people get back into the workforce.

The program appears to have had some success, with the number of homeless falling from 3,500 in 1997 to the current figure of around 500.

In the last few years, the Japanese government has also increased funding, spending 2.7 billion yen in fiscal 2003, and has built more shelters. The British group learned, however, that shelters in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka combined can only accommodate some 4,000 people.

This compares with around 15,000 similar shelters in Britain.

The experts said Japan should focus on building small-scale quality shelters, as the tendency in some cases to build large shelters is often resisted by local residents.

Services for homeless people in Britain, including the shelters, are operated by the nonprofit sector with government funding, and the group said it was encouraged by the growing role played by nonprofit bodies in providing services in Japan — particularly in the area of teaching new skills.

But they said this sector is currently underfunded and needs to play a more prominent role in delivery.

As well as differences in provision, the experts found that the homeless were generally different in nature.

In Japan, most of the homeless are in their 50s and older, whereas in Britain they are mainly in their 20s and 30s.

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