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Drunks, homeless in streets pose problem for police and citizens

Date Posted: 2005-07-22

A sharp rise in the number of people sleeping on Okinawa streets and sidewalks has triggered a Prefectural Police campaign to rid the islands of the problem.

Officials say they’ve had nearly 2,800 cases of people sleeping in public areas during the first six months of the year. Of those, 1,809 were on Okinawa’s main island, including Naha, Urasoe and Okinawa City. Last year they report 4,700 cases, a number police call “way too many.”

The worst case scenario is people sleeping in the street, then being struck by automobiles. Thus far this year, six have died and 55 injured as a result. Drivers find it extremely difficult to see a darkly clad person sleeping in the street at night, where it isn’t expected.

Police and public officials say the public outcry is increasing, with concerns of what children are thinking about adults sleeping in public places and on the streets. Questions are being raised about why people don’t go home, why they don’t have homes, and why nobody is taking action. Police say most offenders are drunk.

Officials say the numbers are most probably understated, as they don’t receive reports in all cases. When they do, a response is to wake the individual and send them home. That’s difficult in many cases, they say, because drunks are not responsive and “it takes at least 30 minutes or more, making it a real problem as it takes police away from other patrol tasks.”

Police often take the drunks to a police station, where they are charged as violators against the road traffic rules. The fine is Y50,000 ($462). The problem is not limited to Okinawa Island, but is confronting authorities in Miyako, where 484 incidents have been logged thus far this year, and Yaeyama Islands, where 477 were charged.

Citizens are urging police to be more vigilant, saying the drunks and loiters are not only an eyesore, but a threat to their safety.

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