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Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006

Homeless forced out of parks after standoff with Osaka cops


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Osaka forcibly ejected homeless men from two city parks early Monday, six days after they were given final notice to vacate to pave the way for upcoming events.

News photo
Osaka city officials force out homeless and their supporters Monday from Utsubo Park in Nishi Ward.

Twenty-two homeless men, including 17 in Utsubo Park in central Osaka and five others in Osaka Castle Park, were forced to leave after a tense standoff with city officials and prefectural police that lasted several hours.

In Utsubo Park, the homeless men, all in their 50s and 60s, staged a sit-in with nearly 50 supporters from around the country.

About 200 police and city officials had gathered at the park by 7:30 a.m. to tear down the nearly half-dozen makeshift tents.

Negotiations between the city and the Utsubo homeless, some of whom have been living in the park unbothered by authorities for eight years, to convince the men to leave peacefully failed earlier this month. On Jan. 24, the city announced the men in both Utsubo and Osaka Castle Park had until 8 a.m. Monday to clear out or they would be removed by force.

As the deadline passed, the homeless and their supporters remained locked arm-in-arm in front of tents in the middle of Utsubo Park.

In the standoff, two homeless men suffered minor injuries and one was arrested for hitting a city official, police announced later in the day.

Finally, just before 10 a.m., city officials moved into the north side of the park, which had been vacated, and began tearing down the blue vinyl sheets that served as tents. Those in front of the tents offered some resistance but were eventually removed.

The homeless were ejected to enable construction to start in both parks for two separate events; the National City Greenery Fair, which runs March 25 to 28, and the World Rose Convention, which runs May 11 to 17.

"Even if we're moved, what are we going to do with our lives?" asked one of the Utsubo homeless, who would only give his name as Nakamura, claiming the city has "no real interest in helping us find work or in providing social welfare."

"Until the city comes up with a concrete plan for really dealing with the homeless problem, I want to stay here, where my friends can help me," he said.

Many of the homeless in both parks were encouraged by an Osaka District Court ruling last week allowing Yuji Yamauchi, who had been living in Ogimachi Park near Umeda for more than five years, to use the park as his official residence.

By having an official residence, Yamauchi qualifies for various forms of government assistance unavailable to those with no fixed address.

"The Yamauchi case was a major victory for those struggling for the rights of the homeless, and it's applicable to the situation of the homeless in Utsubo and Osaka Castle parks," Nakamura said.

However, Osaka said the verdict was not applicable to the situation in both the parks. Following Monday's evictions, the city said it has plans to move the homeless into city-run shelters for an indefinite period.

After the final notice to vacate last week, the Osaka Bar Association urged the city to ensure that the homeless of both parks were given substitute facilities.



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The Japan Times

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