Small thin layers of cardboard on the sidewalks, old grey haired men dressed in unwashed layers of clothes, and the smell of urine. I remember when I was in the fifth grade, I would see a homeless man lying down on his uncomfortable-looking cardboard ‘house’ and surrounded by a couple of garbage bins as if trying to hide away from the world.
Motomachi, the area where I live and spent my childhood in, is full of clothing stores, cafe’s and restaurants all lined up along the clean street, people and visitors from different parts of Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo, would usually walk along them, taking photos, window shopping and even walk their cutely-dressed dogs. Although further down the street near Ishikawacho station, turn right and walk approximately three-hundred meters, you will enter a district called “Kotobukicho” where we meet the non-profit organization, Sanagitachi that do direct visits to serve for the homeless people. There was a drastic difference between the environments in Motomachi street and the Kotobukucho area, such as the colors and quality of the buildings and houses, and what people wore, and even the luxurious cars that were frequently parked along the side of the streets. During middle school, I had joined the GIN Chiku group, where we had mainly served food for the homeless, but joining the GIN Sanagitachi group had made me see where the homeless had spent their nights and the living conditions that they were facing. The main feelings that I had usually taken out of the experiences during the patrols were appreciation and gratitude for the lifestyle I had, and the need to raise awareness of the homeless community in the Naka-Ku area.
I have been able to achieve indirect service such as planning for group awareness through events such as the school Food Fair, but I was also able to partake in the direct service such as going to the patrols on Thursday night. I have been to patrols at least two times this year, one in the winter and one more at the beginning of Spring, and was able to see the differences in needs, such as warm clothes and blankets for the winter, and socks and clothes for the warmer season. One of the strengths I have that are useful to this service group is being able to communicate in Japanese, as the Sanagitachi leaders outside of YIS are non-English speakers. By communicating with the Sanagitachi leaders, I was able to learn more about the conditions that the homeless had to go through.
One of the things I learned was that the homeless were appreciative of the Sanagitachi group and the patrols, as they had felt safe from the possible dangers of living without a shelter, such as violence and discrimination. Although we learn about homelessness in Japan as part of the research, being able to directly experience and hear about the homeless was a lot more effective and educational. Although I was usually at Kannai station for patrols, I was able to go to Yokohama Stadium for this patrol. At the same time of the patrol, there was a baseball game happening and there were crowds of people outside of the stadium (Watching baseball games are huge in Japan and there would be a number of games in a month at Yokohama Stadium). The homeless were scattered about around the stadium (most of them near the park, and some near the stadium gate). This had questioned ‘fairness’ as the homeless were not taken care of and excluded from the crowd. There was a similar situation in Kannai station. Although people were aware of the homeless, they were simply walking pass by them as if the homeless were not there. This had encouraged me to go to the patrols more often and experience the situation physically. In addition, the more patrols I attend, my goal was to communicate with the Sanagitachi leaders and make the bridge between non-Japanese speakers of the YIS Sanagitachi group. Sanagitachi as a community engagement had helped me interact with another aspect of the Japanese culture and the Naka-Ku, Yokohama area that I was familiar with.
It is difficult to imagine a life without more than one pair of clothes and shoes, unlimited food and water resources, and even a proper shelter. It is most difficult because we are used to having them and they are part of our ordinary. However, by putting myself in their shoes, being in the position without the lack of necessities of life, receiving the kind of support and donations from the Sanagitachi patrols would be helpful and I would feel a sense of ‘safety’ within me. Negative stereotypes against homelessness still exist today, and this social group is sometimes looked down upon, rejected, and discriminated. For this reason, it is no help if we are just witnesses’ to this issue, sitting back and waiting for someone else to deal with this, but rather, come face to face with the issue and observing the reality of homelessness.