A change.org petition requesting the use of the (currently empty) Olympic Athletes Village as a temporary shelter for Tokyo’s Homeless has gone live online.
Started by NPO Independent Living Support Center/ Moyai, the petition is addressed to the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike and the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Yoshiro Mori.

According to the message on the petition page, Onishi Ren, President of the Independent Living Support Center / Moyai, sourced data from a nationwide survey on the actual condition of homeless people (as of January 2019). From the survey he deduced that there are a total of around 1,000 homeless people and a further 4,000 who are living at internet cafes across the nation.

Unfortunately, these numbers do not even begin to reflect the current statistics of people living rough on the streets, as a number of internet cafes voluntarily chose to close their doors after the government announced a state of emergency in mid-April .

In addition to the people who are already sleeping rough and those who are living out of internet cafes, the number of cases of people seeking alternative housing or being forced out onto the streets due to financial struggles and/or a variety of different types of violence at home has also spiked recently.

According to a survey (page 78. Fig 1.1) compiled together by OECD in 2017, the level of poverty in Japan has risen to an alarming level with around 16.1% of Japanese people falling either on or below the national poverty rate and with companies currently struggling to pay or even keep their employees, it can be expected that this number will see a large increase and possibly lead to further cases of homelessness.

As stated by AP News, city official Kazuo Hatanaka has said that the government has made an active effort to rehouse a number of people who live at internet cafes by preparing around 500 hotel rooms. Despite this, it can be argued that the government has done less for Tokyo’s truly homeless and rough sleepers who are known for surviving in small cardboard boxes or in makeshift tarp shelters at the edges of parks, underneath railway bridges, and by the side of rivers.

If agreements do go ahead to use the Olympic Village as a temporary shelter for Tokyo’s Homeless, then the Olympic Organizing Committee will be helping to solve one of the city’s largest social problems, at least for a short period of time.

A homeless camp made of tarps and scrap material in Shinjuku Park. Photo by Cory Doctorow | CC by SA 2.0

The Olympic Athlete Village, located in Harumi district of the Chūō ward in Tokyo is planned to hold around 11,000 athletes and a further 4,400 paralympic athletes when the games do go ahead in 2021.

Despite the mass effort that has been put in to prepare the complex’s 24 buildings for the games, the village currently lies empty and will probably remain empty, unless a decision is made to utilise the livable space for those who need it most during the current crisis of the coronavirus.

After the closure of the Olympic Games the majority of buildings in the complex will become residential housing, with the most upper-scale of units priced at more than 100,000,000 yen (1 million US dollars) and the occupancy of some apartments already predetermined.

You could say that one reason why plans to use the village as a temporary homeless shelter has not gone ahead, is the fact that Japanese people like to move into brand new housing where no one has even breathed the air before, but where this argument fails is the fact that the housing will already have housed people during the games, so, therefore, why can’t the complex be used for the homeless?

One suggestion was put forward by Yuriko Koike to use the complex as temporary housing for people under quarantine or for patients with mild cases of COVID-19, but it seems as though the proposition has since been removed and the city has prepared hotel space and other buildings to deal with those cases instead.

A homeless man sleeps on a park bench in Uruma. Photo by troy_williams | CC by 2.0

As mentioned by AP News, the organisers of the Tokyo Olympic Games have so far refused to comment on the petition and as of yet, the local government currently has nothing to say on the possible outcome if enough people sign it. But with the number of signatures on the rise, it is possible that there could be a silver lining on the other side of this dark cloud.

At the time of writing the petition has a signature count of 53,820, and is looking to reach 75,000 signatures in total. If you are able to spare a few minutes of your time, and can empathise with the appeal head over to the change.org website to sign the petition yourself.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.