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Japan's economic downturn pushes more onto streets

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Government statistics say there are 3,105 homeless in the capital. But when "Big Issue" volunteers handed out a booklet to homeless people offering advice on finding food, jobs, and medical help, they got through 11,000 in a few weeks, says Eriko Sato, a staffer on the magazine.

And the homeless, camped under blue tarpaulins along the riverbank or stretched out on cardboard boxes in railway stations, are only the most visible signs of a broader problem in a nation that prides itself on being middle class. Twenty million people, one-sixth of the population, now live below the poverty line, according to official figures.

"When you fall out of the safety net in Japan, you wouldn't believe what is not available," says Charles McJilton, who runs a food bank distributing food to needy Tokyo residents.

Seventy-seven percent of unemployed Japanese have no unemployment insurance for example, according to a report earlier this year by the International Labor Organization. That compares with 57 percent in the United States.

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