Homeless people shut out of bus terminal in Sapporo ahead of G-8 summit

SAPPORO -- A bus terminal in front of Sapporo Station has started shutting out homeless people ahead of the G-8 summit to be held at Lake Toyako, Hokkaido, from July 7-9, it has been learned.

The terminal's operating company is prohibiting homeless people from staying at the terminal on the grounds of improvement of administration, citing thefts and an arson attack in March. It says that it is not "bullying" the homeless. However, support groups say it is possible that the bus terminal is over-reacting due to the summit, and that its move is problematic from a human rights perspective.

Bild: Sapporo

On June 1, a notice titled "caution" was put up in a waiting room and along stairways in the terminal, prohibiting people from sleeping over or entering the facility after operating hours. The operating company is now considering having guards patrol the terminal and caution people not to stay there overnight.

Sapporo Municipal Government officials said there were 109 homeless people in the city as of January this year. About 20 to 30 of the homeless people sleep in the terminal, which has no shutters and which people can freely enter at night.

"It's a facility with high public use, so we need to strengthen security ahead of the summit," an official from the operating company said, commenting on the move. It says it is not considering forced removals at this stage, and is going no further than a "request" for them to leave.

One homeless man in his 50s who has stayed in the terminal for four or five years said there was nowhere else for him to go.

"From about spring I've started being questioned more by police officers. There's no fear of me being attacked here, and it's the only place I can sleep in peace. I know I'm causing trouble, but if I'm shut out there's nowhere else for me to go."

A labor and welfare citizen's group in Hokkaido plans to investigate the effects of the move at the terminal.

"In Hokkaido, a place like the bus terminal is necessary for homeless people in the winter," said Takenori Kinoshita, an associate professor at Hokusei Gakuen University who heads the group. "We want to keep our eyes fixed on whether the latest move will have repercussions on other facilities."

(Mainichi Japan) June 13, 2008