Anthony Shimamoto: Volunteering with the Homeless

My CIP of choice was participating each week on Monday evening by heading to the Kawaramachi Catholic Church to go on a night patrol of the streets of Kyoto in order the provide the homeless with tea, warm clothing, blankets etc. The number of volunteers fluctuated each week but generally there was around 4-5 members in each patrol. The three areas of the city that the groups would patrol through were Sanjo, Shijo and Higashiyamadori. The route that I most frequently traveled was the Sanjo route.

At the base of the volunteering organization are around 4 key members who come each week and who over a number of years have come on good terms with the homeless in the local area, almost always being able to recognize each homeless person by appearance and they always knew their names. Upon meeting the homeless the conversation would generally devolve into one concerning the living conditions and needs of the person as well as possible insight into any information about new homeless people who have moved in the area. These members were extremely thorough in their note taking and all three groups would convene together at the end of each patrol to go over the name of the homeless person, a detailed description of where they were found and a short summary about what was talked about. These members who were regulars each week also had a great intuition about the different locations that the homeless would find to sleep in. The most common spots being in the stairways to the underground parking lots where it was warmer and where one would be spared from the wind.

In general it was quite an enlightening experience being able to come into contact with the Japanese homeless population. The most part the homeless people that we encountered were around 60 years of age and always male. Perhaps the most interesting part of the interaction was the civility of the  homeless when interacting with the church members. Often times they would reject items like hand warmers if they felt that they didn’t need them and one time a homeless man who had extra sleeping bags gave them to the church members so that they could give them to other people who needed sleeping bags. Overall working with the homeless was an interesting experience that allowed me to gain insight into a part of Japanese society that is often not very visible.


4 thoughts on “Anthony Shimamoto: Volunteering with the Homeless

  1. Sounds like a really rewarding experience! I’m curious about the support system for the homeless in Japan, however – are there any government provided resources for the homeless population? And why do you think all the homeless so far have been men?

    • In general I would have to say that the support system for the homeless in Japan is worse than the system in the US. In Japan there is a greater expectation that people in financial need will seek out the help of relatives. It is also far harder to qualify for welfare payments in Japan as there is extensive government screening and in many case people because of the high standards many people are turned down. In terms of why the vast majority of the homeless are male, I have no idea. My best guess would be that their female counterparts have been more resourceful in soliciting help from relatives.

  2. Anthony, if you need to write a senior thesis, this would be such a fascinating topic! Random question, but do you know what do they do with the detailed notes on the homeless people’s living conditions and location? Is this just so they know where to find them next time and what supplies they might need?

    • I’m fairly sure that the notes are used to keep track of where the homeless are found and to address any needs that they might have on the next patrol. The members also go over the locations of the people found in the previous session in a pre meeting before they head out on patrol.