Typhoon Hagibis hit the central area of Japan hard on the weekend, thrashing through Shizuoka, Tokyo, and northern Japan and dumping torrential rains in the area. In the wake of the violent-level typhoon, flooding outside the city is widespread, leaving dozens dead, many missing, and many more injured.
Yet the coming of this typhoon wasn’t without controversy. In addition to some expats in Japan taking offense at NHK’s simplified warning tweet, many Japanese netizens were horrified to learn that homeless residents were being rejected from evacuation shelters in one part of Tokyo. According to the Mainichi Shinbun, two homeless people attempted to enter one of Taito City’s four evacuation shelters in west-central Tokyo, and were denied entry because they couldn’t supply an address.
The news of the policy spread rapidly on Twitter, with tweets as early as the morning of the twelfth, when the typhoon was hitting in full force, getting thousands of likes and retweets. Take a look at this tweet by Agile (@agile_2019), an organization that supports the homeless and needy with food banks and medical consultation services.
“When the Taito City Mayor spoke to the Director General of the Disaster Countermeasures Office, the Director General said, ‘There’s the possibility of further evacuation counsel and preparations, but the Office has decided that homeless (those without stable housing) will not be permitted to use evacuation shelters.’ In reality, Taito City’s Disaster Countermeasures exclude the homeless.”
This caused an uproar among many Japanese netizens, who thought the policy cruel.
“So they’re basically telling them to die just because they don’t have a place to live. Horrible”
“Even if they haven’t got a place to live, they’ve still got a body and a life. They, too, have rights under the constitution, and in an urgent situation the City has the obligation to use their authority to protect them.”
‘Even though they promise to protect ‘everyone’, that ‘everyone’ doesn’t include people who are a burden to society.”
“It’s not like it’ll be for a long time. It’s just a place to wait out the storm for one night, for the most part. Sounds pretty horrible to exclude the homeless in that case.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s a violation of the constitution.”
“This kind of nonsense will not do. It’s absurd that they would turn away anyone who came to an evacuation shelter, or that only residents can use them. That’s basically like watching someone die without helping.”
“I wonder if they’d treat travelers and foreign visitors the same way? Taito City’s policies are puzzling.”
In regards to the last quote, according to the Counter-Racist Action Collective in Tokyo, who spoke to officials in charge, shelters in Taito City were required to prioritize residents, and when asked about travelers, they were told that separate evacuation centers were provided for them. However, those shelters would not accept the homeless either, apparently, leaving no place to go for those most vulnerable to the typhoon.
Though the overwhelming majority of responses were critical of the rule, there were some Japanese netizens who were sympathetic with the homeless yet still willing to understand Taito City’s reasoning behind the rule. Others were in complete agreement with the policy.
“Hm, there are a lot of issues. There’s the need to prevent crime, and I think they should have to write down their address. It’s difficult.”
“If the homeless are in danger they can go to the hospitals. We’ll get rid of their lice and care for them so that they don’t infect others. I think it’s impossible for them to be together with the general public. I think this was the correct decision.”
“They’re not paying taxes, therefore they have no right to the welfare. It’s the right decision.”
According to Tamarin (@tamirin2011), who is a nurse, apparently homeless that have entered shelters in the past have often caused problems for the other people there. Seeming to speak from experience, they related how the homeless didn’t integrate well with the other citizens in the shelter:
“In the beginning we had plenty of space and we were able to keep the homeless separate, but the group became drunk and rowdy, and they started carrying off boxes of supplies without permission. There were so many complaints about them from the residents. Then as more people came, they began to mix in with the residents, and even when warned wouldn’t be quiet, which started to antagonize people.”
Not all urban districts in the affected area banned the homeless from shelters, however. Shibuya and Toshima Wards in Tokyo were accepting homeless into their shelters, and, according to a city councilor in Kawasaki City, just outside of Tokyo, officials made an effort to inform all of the homeless in the vicinity that there were evacuation shelters open to them before the typhoon hit, even going so far as to leave notes in their usual spots.
Toshinori Tabata, assistant chief of Taito Ward’s public relations division, has since acknowledged the criticism over their decision to turn away the homeless, and has said they would like to examine how they can protect and support people without addresses in future by using responses taken by other bodies as a point of reference.
With all-night businesses like internet cafes and karaoke shops–which are popular, cheap places to stay for those who can’t afford to rent–likely closed for the safety of their workers, many homeless probably didn’t have anywhere to go to protect themselves from the lashing winds and torrential rains besides the evacuation shelters. Hopefully those who were turned away found other places that allowed them to wait out the storm.
Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, Twitter/@cracjp, Twitter/@agile2019, Twitter/@tamarin2011
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