Homeless Become Jobless


The laws that restrict the homeless from gathering recyclables at collection points are increasing throughout Japan and making it more difficult for them to live.

The homeless living on the river banks of Tama River in Tokyo.

TOKYO (majirox news) — A homeless man scavenges for cans in the streets of Tokyo everyday. He starts at 5:30 in the morning and works for about five hours and makes about 20 dollars a day.

The 55-year-old former company worker applied to Hello Work, the Japanese government’s employment service center, to find a job. However, he gets turned down everywhere because he is too old, and he has not been able to find any work ever since.

He said, “Other than collecting empty cans, there’s no other work to be had.”

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the homeless to collect them. Local laws that restrict gathering recyclables at collection points to recyclers who have contracts with the municipalities are increasing throughout Japan, according to Japan’s Asahi newspaper.

“This strikes me as a gratuitously harmful use of the law to make life even harder than it is for the homeless,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan and author of Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change. “By collecting recyclables they are trying to fend for themselves and not depend on the government. Instead of bureaucrats welcoming their self-reliance and work they are being harassed out of one of the jobs that has long been a pillar of support for the disadvantaged.”

People do not want to depend on the government for handouts and want to enjoy the dignity of foraging and scavenging for themselves. “Denying the homeless the opportunity to provide for themselves is a mind-boggling initiative that speaks volumes about discriminatory attitudes among Japanese officials towards the destitute,” he told Majirox News.

However, it’s a gray area by the government in its attempts to help the homeless. It is disturbed by the situation and it realizes the impact the laws are having on them. There are a number of non-profit organizations, NPOs, in the field doing advocacy for the homeless and a high level of volunteerism prevalent in Japan today, including support for them. The homeless depend on NPOs and gathering tin cans to make a living.

Despite the government’s concern, more wards are passing laws every month. For example, Sumida, one of the 23 wards in Tokyo, passed a law stipulating a two-thousand dollar fine for anyone taking recyclables from a collection point without a contract.

This will stop recyclers not appointed by the municipality from carting off large amounts of cans and old newspapers. As a result, Sumida’s collection of aluminum cans fell from 83,000 tons in 2007 to 61,000 tons in 2009.

According to metalprices.com, scrape aluminum is big business. Three years ago one ton of it sold for $1,830. Therefore, some of the homeless sell their empty cans to brokers.

“Typically, I see the homeless carrying five to eight bags full of empty cans to meet their brokers in Gekijo Park,” said Kenji Fujita, a company worker who regularly walks by the park in Tokyo. “They don’t look alcohol fueled, but ordinary guys who are down on their luck.”

Homeless Protesting the Law

The homeless are protesting the law. About 80 demonstrators carrying placards and banners marched through the streets on November on 14 in Asakusa in Tokyo. It has been the second demonstration by the homeless since October.

The first law against removing recyclables was passed in 2003 by Setagaya, a ward in Tokyo, and the laws have since became common nationwide. Of the 23 wards in Tokyo, 13 have fines for removing recyclables, according to the Asahi newspaper. Other cities throughout Japan have adapted the same laws, including Sapporo, Saitama, Yokohama and Chiba Prefecture.

Some NPOs and the homeless also say that making can collecting a crime makes them look like criminals. In fact, in the middle of October, a group of male third-year junior high school students were arrested for attacking the homeless and causing them serious injuries by pouring boiling water on them. Some worry that more incidents will follow.

However, some cities are listening to the protests and NPOs. The Kyoto City council faced a petition with more than 1,500 names, which was delivered by a homeless person, a NPO support group and other protesters. In October, the city council responded to the petition by adopting a new program of hiring the homeless on short-term contracts to deal with garbage and public sanitation.

The council adopted a support policy of “Helping to quickly find the means for assisting the homeless in making a living.”

Majirox Correspondent Eric Bloodaxe contributed to this article.

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