Eviction of Homeless people in Osaka-Kita

Eviction of Homeless people in Osaka-Kita (north region of Osaka city)
Masanori Kanazu (Kamagasaki Patrol)

1) Overall Situation
More than 10,000 homeless people are estimated as living in Osaka city. One recent government survey has reported that the number stands only at 6,603 (in Jan-Feb 2004), but we at Kamagasaki Patrol believe this to be incorrect, since it overlooks the number of homeless people placed in shelters, the city's Self-dependent Support Center, and other accommodation facilities. The survey also fails to cover thoroughly the number of homeless people living without tents or stable abodes, thereby forced to constantly move from place to place.We, Kamagasaki Patrol, are working in the Osaka- Kita region (including parts of the Kita-ward, Miyakojima-ward, Chuo-ward). Homeless comrades there live in parks or riversides (often building tents or shacks), or live around stations, shopping arcades, and under the roofs of office buildings (they may stay at such places only during the late night, in makeshift cardboard shelters and/or with blankets).

Every Friday, we patrol (do outreach) around Osaka Station. About 170-200 homeless comrades sleep there. During the extended patrol we hold every Saturday (in Okawa riverside, Nakanoshima Park, Keihan-Kitahama Station Underground Passage, Utsubo Park etc), we usually meet several hundreds more.

Besides these patrols twice-a-week, Kamagasaki Patrol organizes a "Comrades' Day" twice a month, which is a community meeting and cooperative soup kitchen. We also hold weekly consultation services for those wishing to know more about or receive welfare. In addition to these weekly programs, we organize anti-eviction struggles against the local government and corporate entities, as well as act on dissent against the exploitative labor practices of violent bunkhouses like Asahi Construction Company. These are all integral parts of the struggle for homeless comrades・right to existence. Our work is rooted in the belief that the key players in the struggle for homeless peoples・liberation are the homeless comrades themselves, so our aim is not to "provide relief work for poor people", but to work in a joint struggle of comrades and supporters.

From before the 1980's, homeless people had been living in parks and stations in Osaka, but after the collapse of "Bubble Economy" in early 1990's, unemployment grew and the situation as a whole has become serious. The number of day-labor jobs in Kamagasaki decreased drastically, and many day-laborers became homeless, moving into the outer regions of the city. And, with Kamagasaki losing it's prior ability to absorb the unemployed, unemployed workers who came from all around Western Japan to Osaka in order to find work also become homeless in a short matter of time (especially in the Umeda district around Osaka station).
Thus the number of homeless people in the Osaka-Kita region has increased drastically.

In Osaka-Kita, fewer comrades have experience in day labor in Kamagasaki, as compared with other areas in the city, and the ratio of youth (20's or 30's) and women (in rare cases, with children) is relatively higher.

Recently, as we see on our patrols, the number of homeless comrades seems to have reached to some equilibrium between the decreases (due to eviction / facility intake) and increases (new arrivals). However, adding to the pressure they face to move to the outer city, vast numbers of homeless people are now living in shelters or the city's Self Independent Support Center or other facilities. They also often have little choice but to relocate to construction bunkhouses, public or private employers that are no better than detention camps, for work when the opportunity arises. So, though not yet clearly visible, the number of homeless and potentially homeless people must be increasing.

The government administration continues to do nothing effective to support homeless people or even address the growing problem. Comrades who have been forced to sleep on the street build tents and shacks in parks or riversides as their sole means to sustain an infrastructure for life. Like in other cities in Japan, most homeless comrades earn money by gathering aluminum cans, magazines, and othere recyclable/salable materials. In Osaka, around 3,000 homeless comrades work in Kamagasaki's Special Labor Program, which was begun as a result of the 1994 homeless and day laborers' anti-unemployment struggle (registered applicants may work an average of three shifts a month for \5,700, or approx. $50, per shift - light duty). However, at present, only homeless people over 55 may register.

Far from taking responsibility for unemployment, the Osaka city government has dealt with the homeless issue only insofar as it relates to the "appropriate use of parks", which ultimately means eviction for persons sleeping in them. After the government had decided to build the Nagai Park Shelter in 2000, a move which became precursor to a forthcoming nation-wide "Homeless Policy", officers of Osaka city (including the Mayor) have repeatedly emphasized that the main purpose of homeless policy is to "Sweep all tents from the park". Especially after the enactment of the "Homeless Special Measures Law" in July 31, 2002, the pressure of facing eviction has been getting stronger everywhere. Though article 11 of the Special Measures Law states that in carrying out eviction, the facility administrator should "cooperate with homeless measures", in recent cases there has been no "cooperative" links between eviction and homeless policy.

After Nagai, Osaka city carries out evictions in one of two ways.
(1) For tents/abodes covering a wide spanse of land: First, build a shelter, and have city officers carry out a massive "Persuasive Operation" to force homeless people to move into the shelter. After being harassed, homeless people usually flee to just outside of the park. Then, security guards are brought in for 24 hour patrols around the park to block new incoming homeless persons from setting up tents. These shelters provide homeless people with only limited space (just like a berth), a meal once a day (just rice), and are closed within three years
(2) For tents/abodes covering a smaller spanse: Use "Improvement work" or "Cleaning" as pretexts for eviction. Usually roadblocks will be set up after the eviction to prevent former residents from returning.

The city government is trying hard to prevent eviction from becoming a widely-acknowledged social issue so they do not resort to more visible legal (or violent) measures (e.g. administrative subrogation) but rather adopt softer measures like "persuasion", which still remains a threat, personal in nature, for homeless comrades.

In almost all cases, no guarantees for livelihood or sustenance are provided for those subjected to eviction (such as by providing alternative places for tents, applying social welfare assistance with apartments etc). Sometimes a few homeless wishing to do so may apply to enter the city's Independence Support Center, but this does not provide and guarantees for livelihood at all. (There are three ISCs in Osaka city, each accommodate around 100 people. There is a six month limit on the term of stay, so one has to find a job during that short period, on one's own. The possibility of becoming homeless again is much higher.)

Homeless comrades well know about these facilities, so most of them do not want to enter. So they move into other region, losing their dear old house, and again become homeless often in worse living condition.

The Osaka city government has not effected any outstanding measures to address unemployment, and, simultaneously, does not admit a problem with homelessness. This stance represents their strategy: No comprehensive measures. Constant eviction. Let the homeless shuttle between employment detention camps and the streets. Force them to a roadside death. Hide them from society.

Therefore, it is a very important task of ours to protect and extend the habitat of tents and abodes, which act as a pivotal infrastructure of community and solidarity.

Below are concrete examples of evictions faced by homeless people in Osaka-Kita.
But please note that these are only a small fraction of the whole of eviction cases, which, currently, the Osaka city government carries out on a monthly, daily basis.

2) Cases
(1) The immediate removal of possessions in the JR Osaka station bus terminal
* More than 20 homeless comrades live around the Osaka station bus terminal. They not only possess tents and cardboard homes, but also a storage site for luggage under a crossover bridge. While comrades are prohibited from inhabiting or leaving possessions in most areas around the station during the day, such was possible at the bus terminal, making it a rare place of importance.

* Up till this incident, whenever Osaka city or JR (Japan Railroad) wanted to do work to clean or improve the area, negotiations were held in advance between the homeless comrades and the Osaka city Public Works Bureau, with Kamagasaki Patrol also in attendance. There had been almost no forced evictions up until that day.

* On the morning of May 29, 2003, the Osaka city Public Works Bureau and Environmental Bureau suddenly removed the possessions of more than a dozen comrades, without any advance notice. The items removed were immediately incinerated. Belongings included necessary commodities like blankets and undershirts, jackets and trousers for job hunting, bankbooks and seals, or photographs of now-distant children or diplomas of graduation.

*The victims, along with Kamagasaki Patrol, have repeatedly protested Osaka city's action, demanding that responsibility be taken. However, to date, Osaka city has refused to apologize or provide compensation, and insists that "From now, immediate removal may be carried out as long as the area is not deemed to be one where "homeless people live on a daily basis".

* March 24, 2004, the Osaka Bar (lawyers) Association issued a warning letter to Osaka city in regard to this case, in response to the victims・pleas.

(2)JR Osaka station bus terminal eviction case
* In February 2004, the JR Osaka station suddenly pasted admonitions stating "All belongings must be removed by March. Improvement work will be conducted." The admonition soon became "warning" written in red letters.

* This time, the targeted area included several pieces of placed belongings and one tent. The owners of the targeted belongings included victims of May 2003 removal.

* February 27: The initial negotiations with the JR Osaka station improvement work office. Comrades pursued a line of questioning, insisting "Where can I go?" The chief of the office, Mr. Hayashida avoided discourse by simply saying, "There's no more to discuss" and fleeing.

* March 1, midnight: JR began carrying in construction material. Some residential areas were blocked.

* March 3, the day after. The rest of the targeted region was blocked and luggage items were removed.

* Officers stated, "From April, there will be more improvement work along the bus terminal" And "admonitions" as well as "warnings" were pasted on the belongings of several homeless comrades living in the western bus terminal.

* March 31, night. We monitored the terminal area overnight. JR failed to appear.

* April 2, morning. The forced eviction began. An officer shouted at protesters, "You have no right to housing!"

* In both cases, JR mobilized a large number of security police (estimated maximum of 40, mainly from Sonezaki Police Station) who repeatedly threatened and provoked the protesters.

*Unlike the case in May 2003, JR held the removed luggage in containment. Victims were able to get back some of it.

* Homeless comrades demanded their "guarantees to security in life" in relation to the eviction, but JR had just repeated, "We are acting on behalf of Osaka city". As a result, just a few circuit public welfare consultants appeared to inquire/offer "Why don't you come to the city's Independence Support Center?" Almost all the comrades refused.

(3)Eviction of Utsubo park
* Utsubo park is located in the center of downtown, there are more than 40 tents and shacks.

*July 2003, the Western Park Office (Osaka City) pasted all tents with a "warning letter", asking all residents to get out.
* Nagai Park's Nakama no Kai, Kamagasaki Patrol, and Kamagasaki Iryouren worked together as a "Committee on unemployment and homelessness" against this eviction.

* The pretext for eviction was explained as being for improvement work for the "World Rose Conference in Osaka", to be held in 2006. During the year 2003, areas including about 15 tents were targeted.

* To address the looming eviction, several community gatherings composed of the residents' association of Utsubo park were established. After several negotiations with the Western Park Office, the residents's association succeeded in obtaining a promise from the office that, "We'll change the way in which we handle the improvement work so that there will be no harm against the residents. We will not ask for the removal of tents. And we will quit practices of attempting to "individually persuade" residents to leave since that may be interpreted as a threat or pressure." The office also confirmed that improvement work will be carried out in line with step by step negotiations between the park office and the residents・association.

*As of May 2004, the second round of improvement work began, and the resident's association held negotiations again with the Park Office, thus confirming that no removal of tents and nor severence of water in the park would be carried out.

(4)The Osaka castle park eviction
* In November 2002, a new shelter was established. This was the third park shelter within Osaka city, following those in Nagai park and Nishinari park,

* The Eastern Park Office (Osaka city) carried out an aggressive campaign to "individually persuade" park residents to enter the shelter. In one case, an officer threatened a homeless comrade by flaunting a utility knife and saying "I'll junk your tent." (in this case, the Park office apologized and changed the position of the officer, but there was no legal or official reprimand produced, in spite of protest.)

*As a result, tents and abodes have decreased in overall number from 6,700 to 100. Only around 200 people have entered the shelter, while others were either placed on social welfare assistance or evicted to other regions. Now security guards monitor the park on 24-hour shifts to prevent new tents from being built.

* In April of 2004, about 20 comrades living in the central area of the park were told by officers of the park office, "There will be improvement work. You must either enter the shelter or leave. You have until July to decide."
* As in the case of Utsubo park, a residents・association was founded after several community gatherings, on May 29. It was named the "Association for Protecting Tents in Osaka Castle ".

* To date, two protest actions against the Eastern park office have been carried out demanding that "details of the scheduled improvement work must be disclosed, negotiations with homeless comrades must be held, and all persuasion must be stopped immediately." However, the office refused to meet any of the demands and the details regarding improvement work were kept secret.

* Upon the second protest, it was revealed that the beginning of the improvement work had been postponed until the fall.

(*)This report is written for June 2004 Seoul Action
posted by kamapat at 00:00 | TrackBack(0) | English