Michiharu Kimura has been living alone in social housing in Yokohama’s daily worker district for more than a decade after finding it impossible to rent an apartment.
Kimura (not her real name), 68, is one of a growing number of single elderly people in Japan who are turned away by landlords for lacking guarantors or family and are seen to be at risk of falling behind. their payments or even on their undiscovered deaths. They face the same problems of admission to hospitals and care facilities.
âIt was supposed to be temporary accommodation for me, but now it looks like it will be my last home,â Kimura said of her 3-1 / 2-rug tatami room in the Kotobuki district of Yokohama, which is equipped TV, microwave, portable toilet and medical bed.
A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in July 2018 found that there were 570 such establishments nationwide offering free or low-cost housing registered with local governments through Japan.
Run by private companies as well as non-profit organizations – with many operators having a reputation for unscrupulous business practices – they have around 17,000 users, 90 percent of whom are on social assistance.
Forty-five percent of renters are 65 or older and 60 percent have been using the facilities for more than a year. Kimura, who suffered a stroke at the age of 56 and remained with partial paralysis, has been there for 11 years.
A medical social worker (right) chats with Michiharu Kimura (not her real name) in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture, June 17, 2020 (Kyodo)
Single and separated from his relatives, he was dismissed from his post as a security guard after his stroke. Forced to leave his corporate dormitory, he quickly began to receive social assistance.
Seiji Kamamura, 40, a medical social worker, tried to help Kimura get back on her feet after being released from the hospital. He accompanied him on more than 10 apartment rental attempts, but Kimura was refused each time.
As a holder of a disability certificate, Kimura was more likely to be selected in a lottery for municipal housing compared to average citizens. But he still missed it, leaving him “heartbroken”.
“It’s not his fault that he doesn’t have a family,” Kamamura said of Kimura’s inability to find accommodation other than her small room in the social housing center.
While such accommodation is supposed to be temporary, moving to something better can be difficult in some cases, with operators overcharging services and effectively cheating tenants of their welfare benefits, experts say.
Such facilities can also pose safety risks – in a high-profile case in 2018, 11 people died in a fire at a shelter in Sapporo that housed impoverished elderly and disabled people.
With the number of social benefit claims on the rise amid worsening labor market conditions due to the spread of the coronavirus, some local governments have practically been accused of forcing people into low-cost settlements. as a condition for receiving social assistance, support groups told Kyodo News earlier this month.
Although such action reduces the workload and costs for municipalities, it is a violation of the law on social assistance, which states that it is forbidden to force a person to live in an establishment against his or her. will. The welfare ministry said establishing such a “condition for welfare applications is wrong.”
The Welfare Department, which has tightened the basic standards that businesses must meet to operate low-cost facilities, also said it would subsidize the cost of renovating shared rooms to private rooms to prevent the spread. of the coronavirus.
A man in his 60s, who lived on the streets, lost his job in early May due to the coronavirus pandemic and tried to apply for social assistance in Funabashi, Chiba prefecture, in the east of Tokyo.
But he was told that it would be difficult for him to receive welfare unless he entered a welfare facility. Having a strong reluctance to live in such accommodation due to the questionable reputation of many operators, the man gave up applying.
Apartment owners who turn down single seniors aren’t the only problem with aging Japan.
According to a survey conducted by a research group from the Ministry of Social Affairs, 65% of medical establishments require that hospitalized patients have a guarantor, and around 30% of care establishments refuse admission to those who do not.
Some organizations, many of which are run as nonprofits, have stepped in with offers to help these people prepare for accidents or sudden illnesses by acting as a guarantor – for a fee.
One of these non-profit organizations, Tokyo-based LISS, operates an assisted living service. As part of their âfamilyâ contract, staff support users for hospital visits, nursing services, and even emergency hospitalizations, meeting their needs.
The NPO also makes arrangements for funerals, including collection of remains, and provides many services, such as the cancellation of contracts for apartments and care facilities after people die.
With a deposit, the service can reach up to 1 million yen ($ 9,400), including a per diem to support users and travel costs. But LISS says single seniors, senior couples without children and, more recently, single people in their 40s who live with their parents, have applied.
The number of single seniors aged 65 and over in Japan is growing rapidly and is expected to reach nearly 9 million by 2040.
There has been an ever-increasing number of surety services but with exorbitantly demanding fees.
Junko Ezaki, a notary who supports the elderly, said: “It is essential that the content is carefully considered before a contract is made with a guarantor to know how much it will cost and what kind of services will be provided,” adding that the government should also establish a framework to assess underwriting support and trade standards.