National

Shibuya shuts parks, thwarting year-end soup distribution for homeless

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward closed three municipal parks Friday for more than a week to prevent supporters of the homeless from carrying out traditional year-end soup deliveries, a group cited the ward as saying.

The group estimates that about 200 homeless people live in the district and frequent the parks. Volunteers won’t be able to provide soup inside the parks as they are scheduled to remain locked through Jan. 3.

The group has organized this event every year because welfare services provided by the ward office shut down during the holiday season.

The closure is an “egregious injustice,” said Hiroki Murota, a member of Nojiren, a group providing long-term support to Shibuya’s street people, adding the soup service is vital for survival of the homeless through the cold New Year’s holiday season.

Nojiren is an abbreviation of a name loosely translated as “association that strives to win the survival and well-being of the homeless in Shibuya.”

The ward announced the closures of Miyashita, Jingudori and Mitake parks on Friday, admitting that the move was designed to thwart soup runs, Murota said. It cited a no-fire policy in public parks and argued that preparing food there would violate the rule, he said.

“Shutting the parks obviously suggests the ward’s intention to deny the homeless their sleeping places and bar their entry altogether,” he said.

The Shibuya parks department could not be reached for comment Monday because officials had started their end-of-year break.

Murota said the group will distribute soup anyway, as a small section of Miyashita Park is unlocked and accessible at all times.

The move to ban the soup runs, he said, is reminiscent of a similarly heavy-handed crackdown taken by the ward at the end of last year when his group provided tents for the homeless to sleep in one night.

On the night of Dec. 29 last year, a phalanx of ward officials and police officers descended on Miyashita Park unannounced, forcibly ousting both the homeless and the support group as they had stayed beyond its 10:30 p.m. closing time.

This time, to avoid a similar clash, Murota’s group decided to be extra cautious and repeatedly negotiated with ward officials prior to Friday’s announcement, explaining what a critical role the annual soup distribution plays in keeping the homeless alive. But his pleas fell on deaf ears, an angry Murota said.

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