Monday, October 24, 2011

Homeless people in Tokyo's Shibuya district face eviction from communal kitchen/ resting area: Please voice your support by October 26th!

Dear Friends,

Homeless persons in Shibuya are faced with the threat of permanent eviction from the Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall. This is a highly valuable public space where persons on the street can stop and get some rest—a rarity in Shibuya's extremely urbanized landscape. Should this eviction take place, a "communal kitchen" run by and for homeless persons that has been operating since the 1990s would also be put to an end. In other words, homeless persons in Tokyo are now faced with the possible devastating loss of a space to rest, share information, and eat.

Over the years, the Children's Hall has served as a valuable base for Nojiren's communal kitchen, and as a sleeping space for countless persons. As a result, Nojiren would like to thank every single one of the 191 individuals and 61 organizations that signed on to our recent petition protesting the construction of an enclosure around the Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall.

On October 21st, Nojiren submitted our petition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall and the Family Support Division of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Public Health, which administers Hall matters. As we stood along with 30 of our homeless friends from Shinjuku and Shibuya before the Metropolitan City Hall to speak with Division Head Kashiwabara, however, he unfortunately did nothing more than insist that "experts have assessed that the premises are dangerous, so construction will proceed as planned." We reminded him that only some parts of the building need repair, and since there is still time for adjustments, we urged him to change plans for construction in order to allow for continuation of the communal kitchen and Nojiren's encampment.

According to their plans, the enclosure will be built from June 26 through June 28. Since there is not much time left, we will be more vigilant than ever in keeping an eye on our encampment. You can help us protect our communal kitchen and the encampment by sending a message by October 26th to the metropolitan Family Support Division voicing your opposition to the eviction of homeless persons from the Children’s Hall (“Jido Kaikan”) in Shibuya. Contact information is as follows:

Telephone: +81-3-5320-4032
Fax: +81-3-5388-1400

From Wednesday October 26 until Friday, October 28, Nojiren will be in Mitake Park (a 5-minute walk from Shibuya Station) monitoring our encampment as construction of the enclosure begins. Persons wishing to join should contact us at: 080-3127-0639 (Japanese only).

Donations may also be sent to: Japan Post Bank 00160-1-33429 {Nojiren}
Thank you very much for your continued support!!

Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well-being of the HOMELESS (NOJIREN)
1-27-8 (202) Higashi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Fax: +81-3-3406-5254

Text of recently submitted petition:

(Addressed to the director of the Shibuya Children’s Hall and the head of the Family Support Division at the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health)

In Shibuya lies the Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall. After closing hours, homeless persons come to the premises for a place to rest, or to take part in a once-weekly communal kitchen. In the past, homeless persons had been threatened with eviction numerous times, but each time, after we explained the reasons and circumstances behind homelessness, the facility and its director have given us tacit permission to stay.

This past March, immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Children's Hall was closed. In April, a rope barrier was suddenly raised preventing entry into the premises and we were informed that, "The Children’s Hall has been temporarily and fully cordoned off for an assessment of earthquake damage.” Later on, the director apologized to us and said, "We won’t be cordoning off the area for review. “I see no problem in you resting here or holding a communal kitchen here after hours." We asked the director that if, as a result of the review, repair work was deemed necessary and the area must be cordoned off again, to inform immediately. He consented to our request.

Then, on September 27, we were suddenly notified by the director that, “The damage assessment results are in and it has been decided that we’ll be enclosing the area to start repairs. I’ll explain in more detail on the 29th." On the 29th, we were provided with papers indicating that construction would begin on October 5th. The director added, "Closure of the Children’s Hall had already been scheduled for next year, so it is likely that the building will be demolished. In that case, the cordon will not be removed, even after repair work is complete.”

We questioned the director as to why repair work would be carried out prior to a demolition. And how he could tell us to leave with less than a week’s notice, despite the importance of this location as a place to rest and gather. In response, he simply stated "You already knew that we may temporarily enclose the area.” In addition, according to the damage assessment, the only parts needing renovation are the exterior walls and the auditorium ceiling, not the front entrance that we primarily use. There is no need for a total temporary enclosure. Moreover, it’s hard to comprehend why the cordon would not be removed after repair work is complete seeing as how a demolition has not been actually confirmed. The installation of a cordon is a clear attempt at evicting homeless persons and depriving them of a place for their communal kitchen.

On October 3, we submitted a formal petition to both the Children’s Hall director and the head of the Family Support Division at the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. However, each of them informed us that, "Everything has already been settled" and "There is no room to consider your claims." On October 5th, as we protested, construction began right in front of our eyes.

The homeless people who come to rest at the Children’s Hall are just as much victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake as anyone else. Moreover, they are also “structural victims” of a society that has cast them out. How can the city of Tokyo reconcile the fact that it provides much-needed places of refuge to earthquake victims at the same time that it treats people living on the streets with only evictions? How can it not work to guarantee homeless persons’ right to life, as well as the underlying fundamental right of abode? The Children’s Hall director and the head of the Family Support Division have said, "If you have nowhere to sleep, inquire with the Shibuya welfare office.” However, more than a few homeless persons believe that struggling to survive on the streets is still better than the alternatives of being trapped in a dormitory-style facility or living off welfare. With the recent move to turn the public Miyashita Park into “Nike Park” as one example, redevelopment of the area surrounding Shibuya Station is accelerating at a rapid pace. Does redevelopment require that we see homeless persons as only being “in the way”?

We are opposed to the temporary full enclosure at the Children’s Hall and the eviction of homeless persons that it represents. We demand that talks be held and the extent of the enclosure be changed.

October 10, 2010
Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well- of the HOMELESS (NOJIREN)
1-27-8 (202) Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo             

Translation by Rayna Rusenko

Also see this powerful article by Barbara Ehrenreich on the Occcupy Wall Street movement and issues facing homeless persons in the United States.

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