Luckily the city has a plan for them…but is it enough?

Now that Prime Minister Abe has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures, non-essential businesses that had previously remained steadfastly open, like pachinko parlors and Starbucks cafes, are now closing, in an effort to keep people at home and out of crowded places.

That category also includes Internet cafes, which are great, cheap places to spend the night if you’ve missed the last train, or need a budget hotel. They offer private rooms with free Internet, often including a free soft drink bar and sometimes even food. On the flip side, that also makes them popular places to stay for those who are homeless or jobless and can’t afford to rent an apartment in the city. In fact, one in four customers at net cafes in Tokyo are homeless.

▼ One popular chain, “Jiyuu Kuukan”, also offers lunch options for just 100 yen.

Unfortunately, closing Internet cafes around the city means that thousands of homeless people will be without a place to sleep for the duration of the pandemic. Initially the announcement of such closures outraged netizens and activists, who wondered if the city had any plan in place for them.

Luckily, the city is, in fact, providing housing for the homeless for the time being. The initial plans were to rent out 400 private apartments and government housing units for them, but until such places can be secured, they have borrowed the services of local business hotels for the homeless to live in during the pandemic. As with the hotel rooms for recovering coronavirus patients, this housing will be paid for by the city for the duration of the program.

One homeless man in his forties who has been living in Internet cafes for the last three years was able to take advantage of the program. After losing his day labor job because of the outbreak, he had little to no money in his possession, and began to worry about where he could go while the cafes are closed. He visited the help desk for the housing assistance program on April 8, and after being briefed on the program, was fortunately able to check into a business hotel in Shinjuku on April 10.

▼ Many homeless stay dry by sleeping under train lines and highway overpasses.

But other homeless may not be so lucky. As with many public assistance programs, there is a caveat; the homeless must prove they have lived in Tokyo for more than six months before they can qualify for the assistance. For many who live on the streets, that poses a challenge, as without an actual address, it’s hard to procure any form of proof that you have been in Tokyo for any amount of time. Many homeless do not even have IDs, so it would be unreasonable to expect them to have bank account statements, bills, or other documents that could prove their residency.

The aforementioned man was lucky to have records of donating blood within the last year, otherwise he might have been turned away. “I think it will be difficult for many others to prove their residency,” he said to NHK News. After the city is able to secure apartments, he will be moving again to a new location, but in the meantime, he feels relieved to be staying in a business hotel, and will be searching for work while receiving the support of the city.

Homelessness is often a problem swept under the rug in Japan, but at least in this case the homeless were thought of when the business closure policies were put in place. We can only hope that the barriers aren’t too high for the many who can’t afford a roof over their heads in these especially difficult times.

Source: NHK News via Hachima Kiko
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