Old age far from gentle for Japan's graying homeless

Fri Mar 1, 2013 2:52pm EST
 
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By Teppei Kasai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Kyoko Machiya should be enjoying life with grandchildren. Instead, the 64-year-old's home is a makeshift structure of boxes covered with blue plastic in a Tokyo park.

Homelessness in Japan is a decades-old issue, yet it has a worrying new twist. A vast majority of the homeless are now aging, a reflection of the overall graying of Japanese society that poses new problems for policy makers.

Machiya, a tiny woman with weathered skin and graying hair, tried a shelter once but eventually moved out.

"It's not their fault, but it's pretty difficult being surrounded by those with severe mental illnesses," Machiya said. "It wasn't a pleasant environment, so I ended up on the streets again."

Machiya's situation is, sadly, far from unusual.

The number of homeless in Japan has fallen sharply in nearly 5 years, to 9,576 in 2012 from 18,564 in 2007, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

But those in higher age groups - 55 years old and above - have surged to 73.5 percent in 2012 from 58.8 percent in 2003.

Part of the problem is simple demographics, activists said - like the rest of Japan, the homeless are getting older.   Continued...

 
A homeless person lies on a street as a passerby walks past in Tokyo February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino