2 thoughts on “Economic slump

  1. Newly homeless flout rules of the street

    Takashi Maemura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

    Homelesss people set up cardboard shelters for the night on a shopping street near Ueno Park in Taito Ward, Tokyo.

    Friction between newly homeless people and veteran street people is growing around Ueno Park in Tokyo, as more people join the ranks of homeless in the economic downturn.

    The area around the park in Taito Ward has a reputation as a homeless enclave, and homeless people that have been there for a while have unwritten codes of etiquette, such as not disturbing local residents and helping each other out when in need. However, trouble has flared because some of these unwritten rules are being ignored by newcomers.

    Around midnight, homeless people began setting up cardboard shelters along the Ameya Yokocho shopping street near the park. Each shelter was placed about two or three meters in front of the shuttered shops.

    A 58-year-old man said he started sleeping on the shopping street about six months ago. “On Feb. 19, I was woken up by a loud tearing noise,” he said.

    The man saw a stranger who appeared homeless ripping into a garbage bag outside a coffee shop. After finding discarded bread in the bag, he left without cleaning up. The 58-year-old man soon after saw three other men who all seemed to be recent additions to the homeless population do the same thing to other garbage bags, each leaving messes in their wakes.

    The 58-year-old man recalled a more experienced homeless man teaching him to untie garbage bags neatly and to retie them after removing food. Such behavior is the least one could do so as not to bother shoppers and owners of stores on the street, the man said.

    “Recent newcomers don’t even say ‘Hi’ to us. How can we teach them the rules of living on the street?” he said.

    According to a survey by the Tokyo metropolitan government, 201 homeless people were living around Ueno Park in January, an increase of about 50 from a year ago.

    Cooked rice is distributed by volunteers to homeless at the park five to six days a week. One volunteer, Yoshishige Ohashi, 72, works to ensure that no trouble occurs between homeless people. He said he has noticed changes recently in the behavior of people when receiving meals.

    Since January, about 700 people have lined up each day to receive the meals. Ohashi noted that in previous winters, the number was about 400 to 500 people. He added that many newcomers do not show gratitude when receiving the meal. Sometimes Ohashi urges them to say thank you, but many of them leave without saying anything, he said.

    Ohashi said there are accepted codes of conduct in taking the free meals, such as when receiving an extra meal to share it with other homeless who were unable to get a meal, and not to get in line when drunk. However, many newcomers ignore such unwritten rules, he added.

    One day, Ohashi noticed a newcomer trying to set up a cardboard shelter on a spot usually used by another homeless person. Ohashi suggested to the newcomer that he find another spot, but was met with a sharp rejoinder from the man who declared it was a public space.

    People who recently have joined the homeless community, however, see it differently as they struggle to cope with the sudden upheaval that has rocked their lives.

    A 36-year-old former temporary dispatch worker said he came to Ueno last month after he was let go from by an automobile manufacturing company in Chiba. “The homeless people who have been here for a while look scary. It’s difficult to approach them,” he said.

    A 28-year-old man who has been living on the street for a month since leaving his job at a construction company in Kanagawa Prefecture, was surprised to hear about etiquette among the homeless. “I didn’t know that such rules exist on the street,” he said.

    Takeshi Ikuta, 44, the president of an organization that advocates homeless causes, such as by lecturing students about the realities of street life, said people who suddenly became homeless after losing jobs tend to be preoccupied with wanting to rejoin society, and that it is difficult for them to admit they are homeless.

    Ikuta said: “Life on the streets is harsh. Even finding food is very difficult to do alone. A homeless person will quickly be ostracized if they don’t try to get along with others.”

    “In a company, if new hires avoid approaching more experienced colleagues, they can’t learn the rules there. It’s the same thing here. If the newly homeless wish to return to society, it is important for them to communicate with others and learn the established rules,” Ikuta added.
    (Mar. 22, 2009)

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