Little Tokyo BID safety ambassadors Jessica Degadillo (left) and Cynthia Muratalla watch as LAPD officers examine the scene where a young woman passed away on Friday.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

When the Little Tokyo safety patrol officers found a young homeless woman on the evening of Aug. 13 outside of the branch library, she was unresponsive. She was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Today, the young transient in her 20s is simply referred to as “Jane Doe,” more child than woman. The scene inside her small tent was eerily serene. Her body was shrouded in glittery, light blue fabric studded with stars, the kind of material one might use to make a little girl’s princess costume. 

The setting sun illuminated her face that, despite the circumstance, seemed to be at peace. It was a scene that belies the tragedy of suffering from mental illness and/or drug addiction while living unsheltered in L.A.

She is the fourth homeless person found dead in the Little Tokyo area this year. Last March, the bodies of three men were discovered a few days apart in the same week. Each had died amid different circumstances.

Jane Doe would have become a nameless statistic in the annual tally of hundreds that die on the streets of L.A. had it not been for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health team that tried for weeks to help her.

Joanne Kumamoto, president of the LTBA Foundation, a Little Tokyo-based charitable organization founded last year, stands by the floral tribute.

Recently, the DMH team had even convinced her to check into a hospital so her infected fingers could be treated. But after a day or two, she disappeared. On Aug. 16, the team drove around Little Tokyo looking for her when they noticed a floral display in front of the library. They came upon members of the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District, who confirmed their worst fears. Jane Doe had died there three days earlier.

Unlike the three deceased males, Jane had become a familiar figure in Little Tokyo the past few months, wandering around, often half-dressed. No one knew her name because she refused to tell anyone, no matter how many times they asked.

Occasionally, a well-meaning resident or shop owner would give her clothing or a blanket even though they knew she probably needed much more than that. Others would offer her food, while some less tolerant folks indignantly waved her away.

The floral tribute can be found at Second and Los Angeles streets. Gone is the sparkly fabric fit for a princess and the twilight glow. Ironically, Jane Doe passed away next to an edifice filled with books containing thousands of stories, yet her story will largely remain untold.   

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