homeless man

Tokyo police evict homeless from rail station

January 24, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT)

From Correspondent May Lee

TOKYO (CNN) -- Riot police and private guards stormed Shinjuku Rail Station, throwing out more than 200 homeless people Wednesday morning. (629KQuickTime movie)

Protesters tossed eggs and garbage at the police, and sprayed them with fire extinguishers as the forces moved in on the depot. Four homeless supporters were arrested. Two people, including a policeman, were injured.

Most of the homeless remained outside the station, despite government efforts to bus them to a shelter.

The raid put Tokyo's residents at odds. Some are viewing the raid as a way to uphold Japan's prosperous image by forcing the poor out of sight; others see it as a necessary riddance. Still others were visibly upset.

"This will be a stain on Tokyo's history," a group of evicted people and their supporters shouted. (442K QuickTime movie)

Tokyo Governor Yukio Aoshima explained, "Local residents and businesses strongly requested the removal of those who have been living underground. We had no other choice."

The raid came as no surprise. Earlier this month, city officials warned the homeless of the coming eviction. The notices came after the city approved a $12 million moving- walkway project. The walkway is to be built at the rail station, which is known as "Cardboard Alley" because the homeless were living there in cardboard boxes.

cardboard alley

The government has found what it considers to be a solution to the problem. It has built a new homeless shelter. But, it's only a temporary measure. After two months, government officials said the shelter will be torn down, because no neighborhood wants a permanent shelter nearby.

Most residents of "Cardboard Alley" work at part-time jobs for construction and shipping companies and say the shelter is too far from their workplaces. One homeless person called the shelter a prison.

people living in boxes

Minoru Tanaka, one of the homeless, says the proposed moving- walkway is unnecessary. It only saves a few seconds for people walking, but to the residents of Cardboard Alley it's their home, Tanaka said.

In ousting the homeless, the police did not force the group onto buses waiting to take them to the government shelter. Most of the homeless remained outside the station, setting up their cardboard boxes.

The incident has highlighted concerns over Japan's unemployment. Although the country's jobless rate of 3.4 percent is small by international standards, the number of people living in cardboard boxes has become a growing worry.

"This is a problem having to do with employment and social welfare, not to mention the global problem of education and hygiene," said Tsuyoshi Inaba, a human rights supporter. "This cannot be solved with just one measure. What these people want is to find a job."



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Reuters news service contributed to this report.
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