No place like homeless

As with last year’s impromptu tent city in Hibiya Park, this New Years saw another attempt to give the newly destitute a chance to get through the holidays in one piece, though in this case the government actually initiated the plan. The national government, that is, which let 831 homeless, jobless men stay at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Sendagaya from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, during which the tenants were supposed to receive job counseling. About a half dozen actually left with references, according to reports.

It was no skin off the nose of the facility, since it is officially closed during the holidays. And while the charitable gesture was paid for by the federal government (Prime Minister Hatoyama even showed up for a sympathetic show of commiseration), the place had to be staffed by municipal employees. After everyone was kicked out on the 4th and some were moved to other facilities, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara commented that the prime minister shouldn’t have visited. “I wouldn’t have gone,” he said. Apparently, he was pissed that the government had strong-armed Tokyo into participating in what he saw as a useless and ill-advised PR gambit.

“I’m not going to extend the period,” he told reporters, referring to the counseling sessions. “When we recommend jobs, some of they turned the jobs down. A lot of people think these men just don’t want to work. They just want handouts. They’re very willful.”

About 550 of the men are now staying at different facilities and the national government gave them ¥20,000 to use for transportation and other amenities while looking for jobs, but apparently many just took the money and split. About 200 didn’t show up for dinner after the handout. Of course, they may have not come back because they were seriously looking for work, but the government insists they also “report” how they spent the money given to them. Maybe that’s asking too much.

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