RAFU STAFF REPORT
It’s Friday morning, hours after several city agencies worked through the night to remove an encampment from Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo.
A lone security guard patrols the area inside a newly erected guard rail. A few tents remain on the sidewalk along Judge John Aiso Street, but there’s a perceptible peace that had been missing ever since the encampment emerged 18 months ago.
L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) controls the property, which in 2012 was designated a community park and named in honor of Rev. Howard Toriumi, a Union Church of Los Angeles senior pastor who created a unified voice for the Little Tokyo community during the turbulent years of downtown redevelopment in the 1960s and ’70s.”
David Ikegami, Little Tokyo Business Association president, commended Councilmember Kevin de Leon and the Council District 14 staff for their “decisive and meticulous handling of a complex situation.” His comments have been echoed by other community leaders.
Toriumi Plaza, atop the Aiso Parking Garage, was built in 2010 to provide parking for businesses after two parking lots were demolished to make way for residential buildings. Merchants, especially restaurants and shops, had come to rely on the Aiso structure for customer parking.
Starting in September 2020, a homeless encampment began to grow during the pandemic. Gradually, the number of cars using the facility dropped to 25 percent and reports of criminal activity on the plaza increased. Six deceased persons, most of them victims of overdoses, were found in or near the plaza. Three individuals died in the same week.
In response to concerns expressed by community members, de León and his team, along with the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA), initiated efforts to find housing for those living in the encampment amid reports of weapons, sexual assaults, drug sales, and other illegal activities occurring at the plaza.
The plaza will be closed for repairs starting immediately, and a temporary fence has been installed to protect members of the public while work activities are being completed.
Warren Furutani, senior advisor to Council District 14, emphasized that the council office, with support from the Mayor’s Office, was able to acquire over 75 rooms through Project Roomkey along with other interim housing.
Since Feb. 16, LAHSA has conducted outreach and brought 86 homeless people from the plaza into shelters, including 25 on Thursday. About seven remained in the plaza as of Thursday afternoon, according to de León’s office. Four of them are being evaluated by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
As of March 16, LAHSA had provided 185 people in the area with referrals for substance abuse programs, housing and shelter options, mental health services, survival resources and coronavirus-related services, according to de León’s office.
The people brought indoors have been placed in several facilities, including A Bridge Home temporary shelter, the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village interim housing, and permanent placements within the Project Roomkey program at the Grand Hotel and Cecil Hotel, which is now operated by the Skid Row Housing Trust, according to de León’s office.