A homeless encampment on Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo.

Rafu Staff Report

Last month in the same week, three homeless men were found dead on the streets of Little Tokyo. There were no flowers, no hymns — only sadness and a crushing feeling of helplessness.

One man, who died of a drug overdose, was living in a large encampment of about 25-30 tents on Toriumi Plaza above the Aiso Street Parking Garage on First Street. Until six months ago, that encampment didn’t exist.

Merchants and office workers, getting back to business in January and February after sheltering at home during the pandemic, were shocked to find a sea of tents and tarps blanketing a place named for Rev. Howard Toriumi, a man who made saving Little Tokyo his personal mission.

According to the parking staff, fewer and fewer people are parking their cars in the Aiso structure.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered the City and County of Los Angeles to “offer some form of shelter or housing” by mid-October to those experiencing homelessness in Skid Row. His timetable prioritizes unaccompanied women as well as children and families.

Carter’s order will apply to homeless living in Skid Row between Second and Eighth streets and from Spring to Alameda streets. For Little Tokyo, it means that homeless individuals encamped in Hashimoto Plaza and at Second Street and Central Avenue will be offered housing. However, the fate of those in the larger Toriumi Plaza encampment remains in question.

In a joint statement, the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association (LTPSA) and Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA) acknowledged that efforts to address homelessness are welcome and necessary. The organizations called for government agencies to tighten fiscal accountability and include broad community representation in meaningful conversations going forward.

“The presence of encampments makes a community seem unsafe and can discourage customers from patronizing local businesses,” stated Brian Kito, LTPSA president. “Merchants’ concerns are aggravated by fears that the homeless in Skid Row who refuse to transition to housing will simply migrate to neighboring areas like Little Tokyo and the Arts District.”

Ellen Endo, LTBA president, pointed out, “Although we are grateful that Judge Carter’s proposal will ultimately offer housing or shelter to homeless along Second Street, it’s important to note that excluding the larger encampment on First and Aiso streets will effectively bisect our community and ignores a greater need.”

Carter’s order criticizes Mayor Eric Garcetti’s failure to use emergency powers to remedy the homeless crisis as well as the lack of transparency.

Last summer, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of the 2020 Greater L.A. Homeless Count, which showed 66,436 people in the county experiencing homelessness.

In February 2021, at the Los Angeles Business Council’s Mayoral Housing, Transportation and Jobs Summit, City Councilmember Mike Bonin declared, “Let’s just be absolutely candid here — there’s almost nobody in the city of Los Angeles, housed or unhoused, who would give what’s happening in Los Angeles [anything] other than a failing grade.”

Councilmember Kevin de León added, “By any objective measurement, the current status quo is dysfunctional, it’s highly disjointed, the systems are completely misaligned.”

Meanwhile, on April 21, L.A. County filed a notice to appeal the judge’s ruling and will ask that the order be suspended.

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