Tokyo ward rejected homeless people from shelter during typhoon in order to "prioritise residents"

The ward said that it did not anticipate people with no permanent addresses would require shelter from the storm.

Matthias Ang | October 15, 2019, 03:02 PM

As Japan begins to clean up in the wake of the destruction left by Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest storm to hit the country in decades, criticism has begun to emerge over one ward's response to the disaster.

Tokyo ward rejects two homeless people from evacuation shelter

On Oct. 14, The Mainichi Shimbun (The Mainichi) reported that a evacuation shelter within Tokyo's Taito ward rejected two homeless people on the day of the typhoon's landfall, on the grounds that they had no permanent address.

The ward office's disaster countermeasures division explained that the address requirement was part of the ward's decision to prioritise its residents.

As per the office, "We prioritised our ward residents because it was possible they could come into our shelters later."

A public relations divisions officer also added that they had not anticipated people with no permanent addresses would require shelter from the storm.

64-year-old man among those rejected

The Asahi Shimbun further reported that a 64-year-old man was among one of those rejected from the shelter, which was a public elementary school.

The man alleged that he had showed up at the shelter at 9am on Oct. 12, whereupon he was asked to fill out a form for his name and address.

When he supposedly told a staff member that he had no address in Tokyo, he was turned away.

The man further alleged,"I told them that I have an address in Hokkaido, but they still denied me entry and said, 'This is an evacuation center for Tokyo residents.'"

He subsequently spent the night in the lee of a building, with an umbrella to shelter himself against the wind and rain, The Mainichi reported.

Ward criticised

Taito ward has since come under criticism from various quarters for its measures.

Agile, a Japanese organisation that provides support to homeless people, slammed the decision for being discriminatory.

As per the organisation's head, Atsuko Imagawa, "There is no telling when someone might become homeless, so I became very despondent when I realised they would take discriminatory measures even when people’s lives were at stake."

Meanwhile, an official from Shibuya ward's disaster management added that they had allowed homeless people into evacuation shelters designated for residents due to the severity of the storm.

Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, also weighed in on the matter by stating that evacuation centres should welcome all disaster victims, Reuters reported.

Abe stated, "Evacuation centers should let anyone in who has come to evacuate. We will look into the facts and take appropriate measures."

Ward says will do better to support people with no addresses

Taito ward subsequently acknowledged the criticism.

Toshinori Tabata, the assistant chief of the ward's public relations division, responded with the following statement according to The Mainichi:

"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."

CNA reported that the death toll from the typhoon has since risen to nearly 70.

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Top photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images