Homelessness and the greying of the population are among some of Japan’s current biggest concerns. Put them together and the ageing homeless population becomes a growing problem for the country’s policy makers.
The good news is that the number of homeless in Japan has dropped in 5 years, from 18,564 in 2007 to just 9,576 in 2012, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. But the higher age group (55 and above) have increased to 73.5 percent in 2012 from 58.8 percent in 2003. The main reason, as per activists, is the fact that Japan is the fastest ageing population among developed countries . Studies show that by 2060, 2 out of every 5 people in Japan will be 65 or older. The population is also expected to fall by 30 percent to below 90 million. But according to Daisuke Kuroiwa, a member of Nojiren, a homeless support group, the homeless population are generally in their 50s and 60s to begin with. 53% of the homeless in the higher age group have already been homeless for 5 years or more.
Another factor that contributes to the increasing aged homeless is another problem that the whole country is facing: the rising unemployment rate, which is hovering around 4.2%. Competition for day labor jobs is stiff, and the elderly are on the losing end since strength is necessary for those jobs. The report from the ministry also states that 63.7% of the older homeless have given up looking for jobs, with 40.2% of them saying it’s due to sickness and old age.
The Health Ministry has said they are working closely with local non-profit organizations to provide shelter and self-support centers for the aging homeless. But activists say the job programs are full of red tape and the job-hunting programs require the same criteria as mainstream job applications, which brings a certain amount of humiliation and suspicion for the homeless. The shelters the government is planning to build are being met with opposition from neighbourhoods. Plus, they require the homeless to get a job in six months or they get kicked out. So, it still is a “rat race” even for the elderly homeless.
[ via Reuters ]