Thursday, April 28, 2005

Petition to help Tokyo homeless 

From my friend Kim
Dear friends,

I am sending a petition being circulated by homeless and non-homeless activists throughout Japan - to protest Tokyo's recent move to “cleanse” parks of homeless persons who stay there. Please see the translation of the original Japanese text below for our collective stance. The ability of homeless persons to collectivize and create safe communities in public parks up till now has been an immeasurable resource for both their own physical and mental health as well as their capacity to reach out to others (and organize!). Should the ordinance (see below) pass, the city of Tokyo will be setting dangerous precedents.

First, if we allow the existence of tents (and their residents) to be debated as a problem solve-able by banning “offensive”people/matter from park environments, public discourse will increasingly be diverted to valuing the health of “parks” and “public properties” over that of fellow citizens.

Secondly, superficial benefits to “having nice public spaces”will lead to a chain reaction of prohibition ordinances across Japan, thus seriously threatening the lives of thousands of men and women who may ultimately be forced to live fluidly on the streets.

I ask for any and all organizations and individuals concerned with this issue to contact me (raru@jweb.co.jp) as soon as possible with your name(s) so that I may add them to the petition; we will be using it for active lobbying in the local and national Diets, as well as for campaigns to stir greater public understanding. Please feel free to contact me with any questions as well.

Thank you!
PS see the original Japanese version at:
http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~ninja/seimeipic.gif or

HELP US FIGHT city ordinances shutting the homeless out of public parks!
Staying in parks MUST NOT be made illegal!

Our organization, Koen-no-Kai (The Park Collective), is made up of individuals, both homeless and non-homeless, and organizations - all working to support homeless persons in Tokyo. On October 8, 2004, Tokyo governor Ishihara made it clear at a press conference that he is thinking of revising city ordinances to prevent homeless persons from staying in city parks. Newspapers informed the public that, “As soon as preparations for transitioning [the homeless] have been set…we will make the prevention of settling [in parks] a solid policy… if this takes effect, it will be the first such move anywhere in the nation,” and “Measures against violators will be strict.”

However, this ordinance contains a great number of problematic points:

1) In his public address, the Tokyo governor has shown no consideration for actual conditions that the homeless face. First of all, Governor Ishihara fails to understand the difficulties homeless people struggle with to survive. This can be seen in his past statements (some equating the homeless with “free spirits”) such as “after three days living in the open, people just get hooked; they can’t stop”. Today in
Japan, there are over 25,000 persons living on the streets. Once one becomes homeless, the lack of an address makes it nearly impossible to find work. Without work, one cannot find a place to live. Furthermore, social welfare administrations in Japan are not providing Japanese citizens even the minimal
level of subsistence as guaranteed in the Constitution.
Evictions, as well as the removal and destruction of personal belongings are now being carried out by government administrations across the country. These actions deprive the homeless of their place to sleep - fundamental to their right to exist and survive, and also deprives them of their personal possessions - fundamental to their personal and social lives.

For example, on October 29, 2004 the east Tokyo park authority office sent 100 employees, guards, and police at 4am to violently remove nine tents, newly built in Yoyogi Park, and their owners. Five of the nine individuals are currently taking action in court for redress on human rights grounds.

2)By prohibiting persons from inhabiting parks, the Governor may make parks appear “cleaner”, but the problem of how our current society sends people to the streets will become less visible.

Governor Ishihara has stated that the homeless are “an outcome of the declining economy,” but the fact is that people do not become homeless simply due to an economic recession. In Japan shifts in industrial structures (for example, available employment shifting from manufacturing to service sectors), layoffs and corporate restructuring, wage cuts, slashes in
employment compensation, and the reduction of available work to only that part-time or temporary, have inevitably led to a continually growing number of unemployed. People are being forced to the streets because of the government’s failure to enact sufficient social guarantees, or agenda necessary for
tackling unemployment. It is impossible to think that the homeless problem could be solved by evicting the homeless from parks, while preparing to transition only a select portion of them.

The removal of homeless persons’ tents and belongings is a gross violation of Article 11 (“…the right of everyone to…housing”) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Japan is a signatory and repeatedly being served warnings for its breaches. The removal
of tents not only deprives persons of their living space and whatever resources they have to find work or subsistence, but also appears to be a stunt meant to hide any sign of their existence as they are forced to die on the streets.

3)The governor’s statements reflect prejudices that the homeless are “scary,” “dangerous,” and ought to be expelled. The governor has said that “[because of the homeless] young girls are no longer able to do gymnastic training or any exercises in the parks in the afternoons.” Such statements only strengthen current prejudices. It is expressions like these that have motivated social exclusion of socially-vulnerable homeless people, as well as absolutely unforgivable
incidents of violence against them. If society as a whole should come to think of itself in this way, then not only the homeless, but also other groups facing prejudice an discrimination will be increasingly pushed to the outside. The ordinance preventing persons from inhabiting parks would destroy the ability of the homeless to congregate and assist each other for survival, and furthermore allow for greater acts
of social expulsion and prejudice.

4)The ”preparations to transition [the homeless]” that the governor speaks of are inadequate. The preparations that the governor speaks of relate to a
program where the city of Tokyo will offer low-rent apartments and enrollment in six-months of temporary work to persons living in tents within 5 of the largest metropolitan parks.

However, homeless persons not living in tents, or those in tents outside of these parks cannot apply. This program started last year with three parks. Already many entrants speak of concerns that the provision of work and securities in post-transition apartment life are not sufficient for stability. If,
next, the prohibition of staying in parks is made official, then the remaining tents of people who chose not to enter the city’s program will most likely be forcibly removed.

To date, tent communities have been a space where the homeless could help each other survive; eviction by the city would not only scatter them, but destroy their access to personal bonds of support as well. On January 24th, 2005 an order was passed allowing the city of Nagoya to forcibly remove eight tents and their owners from Shirakawa Park. The enforcement of
prohibition against the inhabitancy of homeless persons in this park, may have a very serious impact on conditions for homeless persons, and civil society as a whole, across Japan.

For the above four reasons, we are strongly opposed to shutting homeless persons out from city parks. A great amount of thought must be given to these issues. We demand that the issues involved be addressed sanely with an open and civil discussion.

Koen-no-Kai petition board:

Sachiko Arai,
Koji Goto - Soup-no-Kai,
Kanami Ikegami - Food Bank,
Daisuke Kuroiwa - NOJIREN,
Nasubi - San'ya Welfare Center for Day-Laborers' Association,
Noriko Nakamura - Hoshi-no-Ie,
Osamu Ogawa - Inclusive Suginami,
Rayna Rusenko - IMA Emergency Shelter
Love, Peace, Email. http://www.Jmail.co.jp

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