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Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009

Hibiya Park tent city for jobless closes down


By MARIKO KATO and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

Some 500 jobless people, many of them laid-off temp workers, who spent the New Year's period encamped in Hibiya Park were relocated Monday to four other sites arranged by the welfare ministry after volunteers closed the temporary shelter in the heart of Tokyo.

News photo
Breaking camp: Volunteers carry futon out of Hibiya Park in Tokyo on Monday, the final day of the tent village where they had been offering free food and shelter to laid-off temp workers. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

"This is our first step to make society more secure for workers," said Makoto Abe, chairman of the Japan Community Union Federation and an organizer of the event who has been urging the ministry to support the jobless at the park.

Abe and other organizers led a march demanding stable employment, starting from the park, where more than 20 volunteer groups had set up a tent village offering idled temp workers free food, consultations and shelter since New Year's Eve.

The unemployed and homeless will move to four new shelters in Tokyo until Jan. 12, including unused school gymnasiums in Chuo Ward and Nerima Ward, and a winter dormitory for homeless people in Ota Ward.

By Friday, the tent village's population had shot up to more than 300, prompting the ministry to open a hall for extra shelter space. Both the tent village and the hall were closed Monday, however, uprooting the temporary dwellers.

The tent village was the latest stop on a long and lonely journey for a 39-year man from Kanagawa Prefecture who lost his temp job at a car manufacturer in early December.

"I had considered suicide many times," he said. "I have family in Osaka, but I can't go home and show myself in this state."

He heard about the tent village on the radio and arrived on New Year's Day.

"What I'm most grateful for is the volunteers who talked to us not out of pity but out of kindness," he said.

The man, who asked not to be named, had a job interview at a restaurant Monday, but he remained cautious.

"It's difficult for anyone above 35 to get a job," he said, adding that if the interview fails and he can't find a place to live, he will stay in one of the shelters organized by the ministry.

A 69-year-old man who had been a subcontract worker for Nissan Motor Corp. in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, also came to Hibiya Park to seek food and shelter.

"Somebody had to leave, so I volunteered as there are younger employees who need to support families," the man, who also declined to give his name, said. The government should support young people who are laid off, he said.

After the tent village was closed, the man said he could stay with one of his offspring, but he felt embarrassed to ask for help at his age.

"I'll move out of the tent village today and look for a job so I can rent an apartment on my own," he said.

There were people besides laid-off temp workers using the tent village, but no sort of census was taken.

"Homeless people and day laborers have also dropped by," said a 29-year-old volunteer.

One such visitor was a 58-year-old day laborer from Tokyo who showed up Sunday. "I heard about this event on the radio and came here because I was hungry," he said.

The manufacturing sector in particular has seen massive layoffs since October as car sales in the U.S. plunged significantly amid the global financial crisis.

Because many manufacturers provide housing to temp workers, those who were laid off lost their living quarters at the same time.

The latest labor ministry survey anticipates that between last October and this March, 85,012 temp workers will have been laid off.



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