Homeless people evicted from their places as Japan continues Summer Games

Osamu Yamada, right, is warned by a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official to remove his belongings from a grassy area near the new Tokyo National Stadium on June 18, 2021 (Mainichi / Harumi Kimoto)

The Olympics may be called the “festival of peace,” but for at least one man forced three times to leave the outdoor spaces near the Tokyo National Stadium that he called his home, they were far from peaceful. Although the 2020 Games are over, its old “homes” remain surrounded by fences. He’s not the only one with issues like this. In the name of the feast of peace, many people have suffered only inhuman treatment.

On June 18, about a month before the start of the Tokyo Games, four members of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government showed up in a grassy area near the national stadium that the latter manages. . Osamu Yamada, 64, who had lived there for a long time, was surrounded by his supporters when he met officials.

Osamu Yamada, who has lived for years near the National Stadium, is seen on August 9, 2021. (Mainichi / Harumi Kimoto)

A member of the organizing committee said, “We are going to put up fences here,” and a Tokyo government official handed Yamada a “warning”. The newspaper read: “This property (personal belongings) interferes with the management of the roads, so please remove them immediately.”

Born in Tokyo, Yamada remembers his father taking him to the old national stadium to watch the track and field events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “The seats were numbered and I wondered why we had to go. sit in specific seats, “he joked. Then, too, measures were taken against the homeless in the name of “the beautification of the capital”. Yamada never imagined that 57 years later he would be subject to displacement.

After graduating from high school, he took on construction jobs that came with boarding or day jobs while living in cheap shelters. But the economy and employment began to decline in the early 1990s. Cheap accommodation was turned into hotels one by one. Unable to afford a room, Yamada found himself on the street.

In this photo taken on January 21, 1996, people who lost their jobs after a prolonged recession, and those who initially couldn’t find jobs, fill the west exit corridor of Shinjuku Station. (Mainichi)

During this time, there were a lot of people in similar situations. “The area around the Shinjuku roundabout would be so crowded that, unless you go early, you wouldn’t be able to find a place to sleep,” Yamada said. “The underground passages were filled with cardboard boxes used by the people who lived there. ”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building moved to Shinjuku in 1991. Gradually the area became heavily guarded and by the end of the 90s Yamada was in Tokyo’s Meiji Park right next to the old national stadium.

Yamada met other homeless people he could trust in Meiji Park, and before he knew it, he had lived there for a long time. Aluminum buyers began to pour in and collecting cans became a source of income for him.

Osamu Yamada makes a living collecting aluminum cans, which he performs late at night and early in the morning, as seen around 5 am on August 5, 2021. These days he collects empty cans of alcohol consumed outside, which became popular during the coronavirus crisis due to the early closure of bars. (Mainichi / Harumi Kimoto)

Then Tokyo’s winning bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics changed everything. For the construction of the new national stadium, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government permanently closed part of Meiji Park in January 2016. Yamada wanted to stay in the place he knew so intimately, but in April 2016, an execution order by the court meant that he and several other people living in the park had to leave their places. They moved to another part of the park, but had to leave that area about eight months later due to the construction of a building for the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and the Japanese Sports Association (JSPO).

Having no choice, Yamada moved to a nearby grassy area on an old unpaved prefectural road now filled with weeds. “It was a good place, out of sight for the most part,” Yamada said. It was also the perfect place to drop off the big bags of aluminum cans he had collected. But again, Yamada was forced to leave his place.

The Japan Sport Council (JSC), the main body governing the construction of the new national stadium, demanded that Yamada leave Meiji Park. Yamada and others living in the park, as well as organizations that support them, sued the JSC, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese government for damages, claiming the defendants violated their rights. to the life.

Yamada, who did not want to venture far from his familiar neighborhood, moved to another grassy area a short distance from his most recent location before the July 4 deadline set by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Looking down he said, “They tell me to get out, but they don’t offer an alternative site. It’s just a move.

Even after the Olympics, Yamada’s old homes near the new stadium remain fenced in preparation for the Paralympics. “I want the restrictions to end soon,” Yamada said repeatedly.

Back in the days of the Olympics, it wasn’t just the areas around the national stadium that were off-limits to the homeless. The areas surrounding Yokohama Stadium, the Games’ baseball and softball stadium, in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, have also been closed to people on the streets. But the Yokohama municipal government, which began discussions with homeless support organizations in spring 2020, has prepared an alternative site for the displaced homeless. With a budget of around 7 million yen (about $ 64,000), the Yokohama government has rented 40 beds in inexpensive rooming houses and provided light meals, including bento boxes. Some remained in the streets, but around 35 people living near the stadium took advantage of the services offered.

“No entry” signs are attached to the nets installed around the Yokohama Stadium in the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama, on August 3, 2021. Before, during and after the Olympic Games, the park where the stadium is located is closed. (Mainichi / Harumi Kimoto)

“We discussed how we could minimize the damage to the homeless,” said Yukio Takazawa, 50, who supports daily workers and homeless people in Yokohama’s Naka neighborhood. “For the homeless, their jobs, their meals and their personal relationships all depend on where they live. Leaving a place means losing a lot. they can actually “settle in.” On the one hand, we have people who are being kicked out of their homes. On the other hand, we see medalists hailed as champions for working so hard. But the people in desperate situation also work very hard every day. ”

The Mainichi Shimbun emailed the Olympic Organizing Committee and asked them questions, including whether account was taken of people living on the streets when areas surrounding Olympic event venues were cordoned off and whether the committee had violated the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21 regarding the International Olympic Committee’s policy on sustainability. to consider in particular the most vulnerable populations in society.

The Organizing Committee went so far as to say, “As we continued our preparations for the Games, we provided individual explanations to people living near the event venues and others who would be affected.

The “push-back” of homeless people has been a problem in the host cities of previous Olympics. According to the Advocacy and Research Center for Homelessness (ARCH) and other organizations, during the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, homeless people living in the downtown area were transferred far away and many living in the street were arrested.

Bearing in mind the lessons of the Atlanta Games, the State Government of New South Wales developed a homeless protocol for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He said the homeless are also members of the public and have the right to be in public spaces. At the same time, a program to help people get off the streets has been strengthened. As the London Olympics in 2012 approached, the government and homeless support organizations formed a coalition to improve aid measures.

How does ARCH founder Takuya Kitabatake, 31, who also does independent research on people who have lost their homes, see the Tokyo government and Olympic organizing committee’s approach to the homeless ?

Fireworks are fired during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Summer Olympics on July 23, 2021. Osamu Yamada’s “home” is in a restricted area that is prohibited for the public to enter . (Mainichi / Harumi Kimoto)

Kitabatake said he wanted Japan to be as human rights concerned as the mayor of Sydney was at the 2000 Olympics, citing a speech in which he said he could not claim not to see the homeless problem at its feet and enjoy the magnificent Olympic fireworks display. Kitabatake continued, “I think the Olympics are an event that only works when everyone’s human rights are respected and everyone is able to lead a safe life. In Japan today, not only are there homeless people, but people in dire circumstances from the coronavirus pandemic. Is it okay to move an event forward when there are people who cannot make a decent living? ”

The actions of administrative bodies affect the public and encourage a colder view of homeless people. “If the administrative authorities reduce the number of people eligible for assistance, people experiencing homelessness will be pushed out of society. Unless members of the public are determined not to allow discriminatory treatment of homeless people, neither government nor society will change, ”Kitabatake said. stress.

(Japanese original by Harumi Kimoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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