Tokyo's Number Of Homeless People Hits Historic Low: Report

A homeless man takes a nap in front of a fountain at a park in Tokyo, Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
A homeless man takes a nap in front of a fountain at a park in Tokyo, Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Many American cities could learn a thing or two from Tokyo.

Figures released by the Japanese government earlier this month showed that just 1,697 people were homeless within the world's most populous city in August -- the lowest on record since officials began collecting data in 2002 -- The Wall Street Journal reported. In comparison, New York City, the most populous city in the U.S., has about 56,000 homeless individuals.

"The number of homeless people at our food drive peaked in the 1990s," the leader of a Tokyo-based nonprofit offering support for the homeless told The Wall Street Journal. "It’s probably about half that number now."

The key to Tokyo's success lies in social welfare programs rooted in the Japanese constitutional right "to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living," Think Progress pointed out.

Hiroki Motoda, a local official, said that effective temporary housing and employment advice services -- as well as an aging homeless population that has become eligible for public health services -- has led to the decline.

While a 2014 survey by the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that overall rates of homelessness in the U.S. have declined since 2005, results have varied from region to region. Some cities -- like Houston and Salt Lake City -- have made significant progress in combating the crisis on their own streets, while others -- such as New York, which currently has record highs of both people living in shelters and billionaire residents -- have struggled to provide stable shelter to those living in extreme poverty.

In Japan, however, not everyone is celebrating the news. Critics have called the survey misleading, according to Al Jazeera, pointing to the survey's failure to consider those without permanent residency who may be sleeping in Internet cafes or cars -- not in public spaces, like a park or sidewalk, where city officials conducted the official count.

"I'm just skeptical about that claim," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, told Al Jazeera about the optimistic report from Tokyo. "The notion that suddenly everything is getting rosier sets my alarm bells off."

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