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Tokyo ward evacuation shelter shunned homeless as Typhoon Hagibis tore through Japan

The Tama River is seen swollen due to the effects of Typhoon Hagibis in Kawasaki's Takatsu Ward, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, on Oct. 12, 2019. The Setagaya Ward Office in Tokyo notified homeless people living along the river of local evacuation shelters. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- A public evacuation center in the capital's downtown Taito Ward shunned homeless people seeking shelter due to Typhoon Hagibis on Oct. 12, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The homeless people were apparently refused entry because they had no permanent address.

According to the Taito Ward Office, it started accepting evacuees at four evacuation shelters from 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 11 as Typhoon Hagibis, this year's 19th, approached the Japanese archipelago. When two people arrived at an evacuation center at the ward's Shinobugaoka Elementary School on Oct. 12, officials turned them away saying they "didn't have addresses."

The Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall near JR Ueno Station is seen in the capital's Taito Ward in this Jan. 28, 2019 file photo. The facility was opened to foreign tourists and people having difficulty getting home from work or elsewhere due to the effects of Typhoon Hagibis. (Mainichi/Naomi Hayashi)

A 64-year-old man originally from Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido was one of those rejected. He says he has been living on the street since coming to Tokyo about a month ago. After being denied entry to the shelter and having nowhere else to go, he spent the night of Oct. 12 in the lee of a building near JR Ueno Station, holding up an umbrella to shield himself from the wind and rain. He has a speech impediment due to a stroke.

"I could've stayed safer if only they had accepted me at the shelter," he told the Mainichi.

According to the ward office's disaster countermeasures division, people who wish to take refuge at one of its public shelters were required to write down their names and addresses. "We prioritized our ward residents because it was possible they could come into our shelters later."

Support groups for the needy have decried the ward's response, with one of them saying, "They locked out street people." Atsuko Imagawa, representative of support group Asile, says she heard several homeless people complain about being rejected by evacuation shelters on Oct. 12.

The Taito Ward Office (Mainichi/Yoshihisa Minato)

While the ward and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had opened the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center and the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall, both in Taito Ward, as temporary shelters for those who had difficulty getting home from work or elsewhere due to the typhoon, the ward failed to direct the two homeless people it turned away. A ward public relations division representative said the municipality had not anticipated people without fixed addresses would need shelter from the powerful storm.

Toshinori Tabata, assistant chief of the public relations division, commented, "It is true that, as a consequence, we could not extend support to those people. We've received a great deal of criticism about our response. We'd like to examine how we can support and protect the lives of people without addresses by referencing responses taken by other bodies including local governments."

Taito Ward is home to popular tourist attractions such as Sensoji Temple, Ueno Park and the Ameyoko market street.

(Japanese original by Aya Shiota and Shinya Oba, Integrated Digital News Center)

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