Citizen of the Planet
Several days ago in a blog post entitled "Sleeping Rough" I told of a homeless young man who had come to my door asking to use my telephone. What he was actually after was a ride into town which I was happy to provide. During the ride, and at my prompting, he told me a little about his life and said that he had spent the previous evening sleeping in a field a couple of miles down the road from my house. Once in town I got him a burger and fries and helped to reunite him with his girlfriend, a young lady who also appeared to be on the verge of homelessness.
I am pleased to report that the burger and fries did not create a sense of dependency, and that I have not seen the young man or his lady since. I am hopeful that their lives, as with the weather, have shown improvement.
Mineko, my dear friend in Japan, read that column and replied with a lengthy email detailing her own experience with homeless people in and around Tokyo. Many years ago Mineko was a foreign exchange student who lived with our family, and I have mentioned her in this space on several occasions. She is a lovely person.
Mineko has given me permission to print portions of her email about homelessness in Japan in this blog posting. That follows:
"It so happened that last Sunday, desiring to go for a walk outside, my husband and I went to the huge Imperial Park in Shinjyuku. It was the first time we had been there in some years, and we were rather shocked to find a row of futon beds and blue sheets whereupon quite a number of homeless people were hiding themselves under covers in front of the entrance ticket sales booths. It was a rather spacious open public area where people meet-up before they go into the park together. Homeless men with just a blue sheet and without any futon or coverings were sitting on the asphalt ground, holding a backpack before their chest as if to protect themselves from coldness, and seemed to be wondering how to go find futons, mattresses, blankets, etc. for the coming night. They appeared to be newcomers to the place."The sight reminded me of my own experience from early to mid 90’s when I used to teach and had to walk past a big park in order to reach the school campus. It was after our bubble economy suddenly collapsed, and the park was almost overnight packed with tents and cardboard houses of the homeless people who had been suddenly thrown away by their companies.
"I noticed by going through that park three times a week, that even among the homeless, there were the weak and the strong, extroverts and introverts, as a matter of course, as it was just a small human community. Then I took notice of one lone wolf who didn't comingle with others, who didn’t have enough willpower to go collect empty cans and bottles during the daytime so that he could sell to gain what little change he could from stores, etc. In other words, he was always alone, most poorly dressed, stunk worst, and just wandered around. I didn’t even know if he had a tent house of his own; probably not. Then, I decided to give my bento-boxed lunch that I prepared at home for myself to eat at school as lunch to this man whenever I passed him in the morning. It didn’t happen regularly, but whenever I saw him, I handed him my lunch while others were not looking. He was really hesitant, and asked “may I really?”, and when I said “It’s all right,” he hurriedly went away."But then a winter break came, and I didn’t go to school for nearly three weeks. I was concerned about his health conditions, but I couldn’t get involved as much as going there on my holidays to bring him food."In the end, when I returned to school after the break, he was gone. I sensed that he had died on the street. So one day, after school, I visited some of the homeless tents where people seemed to gather the most and asked about the man. Alas, he had been found dead and was taken away by the municipal office."After this, I joined a NPO which specifically supports the homeless in that particular area by sending medical patrol once a week and distributing food regularly - and especially during the year-end and New Year’s week when stores are closed. Since I live away from that area, the most I could provide was donation of extra food, clothing, blankets, and money. It was too far for me to really provide my labour after I have come home and go out again to the area I have just returned from. Although I am still a member, since I quit teaching at that school several years ago, and the number of the homeless remaining in the park in the latter half of 90s was so small, and I saw none in 2000’s, I thought the problem was somehow solved by municipal and private efforts."Thus, my shock of seeing men sleeping last Sunday during the daytime in the open public area took me by surprise. It’s the same municipal ward as the school and the park were. So the homeless were just migrating from place to place? I know some people, especially some men, prefer that way of living, free from any bonds. If it is a way of living by choice, then I shouldn’t be concerned. But others must have fallen into that kind of state by force or without realizing that they are falling. I took it as their way of protest that they are making rows of futons in front of Imperial Park where so many people, even non-Japanese, visit."I only hope that our authorities will not just hide them in some institution during the coming Olympic games where there will be more observers from abroad, as Chinese government often does during big social events like international conferences. I do not know how to deal with this problem of homeless people in the middle of our capital city, but both public and private sources must get together to come up with a smart solution; for example, Imperial Park could hire so many park caretakers, who I suppose are civil servants. If there are so many men sleeping in front of the park during the day, could we perhaps contract them to gather twigs and fallen leaves? Perhaps, that wouldn’t work. Well, I will keep on thinking."
Didn't I tell you that Mineko is a lovely person! Giving her lunch to a homeless man each day is so much like the young girl that I remember from all those years ago.
People living outside in the elements and subsisting on begging and handouts is something that should not be happening in civilized society. America, Japan, and the world should and must do better!
Thank you, Mineko, for sharing your experiences with us!