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Tokyo group's night survey finds nearly 2.8 times more homeless than gov't day figures

A meeting ahead of the street count held by ARCH is seen in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 24 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Endo)

TOKYO -- A citizens group's summer 2019 nighttime count of homeless people in some of the capital's wards found 1,040 rough sleepers, nearly 2.8 times the number confirmed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's own daytime survey over the same period.

The latest survey by the Advocacy and Research Centre for Homelessness (ARCH) marked the eighth time that ARCH has held its own inspections since January 2016. Each one has reportedly found two times or more homeless people than the government's own official surveys. The results back past accusations that official bodies' counting methods were not reflecting reality.

ARCH's "Tokyo Street Count" initiatives are carried out twice a year, mirroring the practices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's own count of homeless people. In the early hours of Aug. 24 and Sept. 7, a group of Tokyo residents who responded to a public call for volunteers walked around eight of the capital's wards for about two hours. Any homeless people, their tents, or makeshift homes that were seen by volunteers were counted.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government's survey of approximate numbers of people living on the streets was held during the daytime in early August. Administrative personnel for roads, parks and riverside areas confirmed numbers by counting what they saw, in the same way as ARCH's survey. ARCH's latest street count found a total 1,040 people in the eight wards checked, whereas the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's sweep of the same areas found 378 people in total. Based on these figures, ARCH's summer 2019 investigations unveiled a discrepancy of about 2.75 times the government's tally.

Looking back at the eight street counts that have been held so far in tandem with the government's efforts, the greatest disparity was one of 2.81 times in winter 2016. Next were the summer 2016 totals, which had a difference of 2.79 times. The summer 2019 count is now the third most disparate. The results closest to each other were in winter 2019, but ARCH still found twice as many homeless people as the metropolitan government.

ARCH is continuing its investigations, aiming to use Tokyo's hosting of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity to promote its initiative for the city to change into a good place for anyone to live. Co-head Nao Kasai said, "Our provisional calculations show that in summer 2019 there were 2,060 rough sleepers across all regions of the capital. This means the metropolitan government has overlooked over 1,000 more people, all of whom have names and lives."

Kasai, a 35-year-old researcher in urban design at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, continued by stressing the need for nighttime surveys with public participation.

"I've never heard of another example in the world of these kinds of inspections being carried out in the daytime," she said. "If we do not have a grasp of the actual situation, we cannot implement effective measures."

But Emi Yaginuma, an official at the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, struck a blunt tone: "Homeless people are likely to be mobile, so it's hard to count all of them. If we check in the same place, at the same time, in the same way, then we can get to understand their inclinations."

Although she acknowledged that more people can be identified at night, she rejected the idea of changing their inspection methods, saying, "The greatest priority is to decide how to support people individually."

Soshiro Yamada, an associate professor in public assistance theory at Nihon Fukushi University, commented, "Although it is difficult to get a perfectly accurate count of the number of people affected by homelessness, it's important to try to get a grasp of the situation as accurately as possible."

"If the number of people is inadequately represented then it can lead to delayed policies. Shouldn't the metropolitan government accept the results of the continued investigations by these citizens groups, and enact its own nighttime surveys?"

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Tokyo Bureau)

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