By MARK MASAOKA and ALEX KANEGAWA, Nikkei Progressives

The City of Los Angeles has failed to provide adequate alternative spaces for the unhoused, much less permanent housing. This has created a crisis at Toriumi Plaza, pitting the legitimate needs of the unhoused against the legitimate needs of local Little Tokyo business owners and workers struggling to stay afloat during the continuing pandemic.

Despite billions in previous and incoming housing funds, a dedicated sales tax increase and federal COVID assistance, the city and county’s unhoused crisis continues to worsen. Their latest program, Project Roomkey, has been quietly winding down, and many unhoused have chosen the street over Roomkey due to its policies of destroying their belongings, displacing them from communities they are familiar with, suffocating restrictions and lack of permanence. 

The city can and must immediately expand the stable transitional (bridge) housing facilities that it stopped increasing, push for affordable and permanent supportive housing, and end the criminalization of homelessness, and we encourage the Little Tokyo community to directly add its voice to this.

Recently, the city removed the portable toilets and handwashing station at the plaza in an effort to get the unhoused to move, a cruel tactic that makes unnecessary hardships for the unhoused and worsens the environment for the surrounding community. Nikkei Progressives supports the demands that the city reverse these inhumane actions.

Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic has ravaged the hospitality and retail sectors of the economy. Little Tokyo has seen 20 businesses close, and others still have workers on layoff. Many businesses in Little Tokyo fear that visitors who park at the Aiso Street lot and have to walk by or through the unhoused encampment will be discouraged from coming back to Little Tokyo. 

Rev. Howard Toriumi of Union Church, for whom the plaza was named, was an early voice for a community-oriented redevelopment, and known for being compassionate towards those who were having a hard time in life. He passed away in 1987. We imagine he would have brought the concerned parties together, help them see the validity of each other’s concerns, and strike a balance while pressing the city to meet its responsibilities.

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