A homeless encampment on Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo last year.

By NIKKEI PROGRESSIVES

The City of Los Angeles announced it will evict unhoused residents at Toriumi Plaza by March 17. While some may feel this would solve the houseless situation in Little Tokyo, Nikkei Progressives believes this sweep of Toriumi Plaza will only result in more suffering for the unhoused and will do nothing to solve the housing crisis or the growth of encampments.

The residents at Toriumi (and the surrounding public) deserve better choices than enduring destructive sweeps, accepting problematic Project Roomkey placements or moving to other encampments. Unhoused people deserve safe, long-term housing and supportive services, and it is unjust to criminalize people for living on the streets when no real alternatives are available to them.

In the interests of justice and humanity, we urge City Councilman Kevin de León to withdraw the eviction order for Toriumi Plaza and work on a real solution.

The city has touted Project Roomkey (PRK), a temporary placement program converting motels and hotels into shelter, as the solution to encampments like Toriumi Plaza. While PRK appears promising on paper, in reality, it functions as a revolving-door space with prison-like conditions.

With a maximum stay of 90 days, the majority of individuals placed in PRK find themselves on the streets again. They are moved out to make space for the next round of people being relocated or leave because of the heavy-handed security personnel, the regimented eating schedules, and the strict personal belongings limitations (they are only allowed to take what belongings they can carry). Some PRK residents even get evicted for minor rules violations such as leaving the building without permission or not social distancing.

The city has crucially mishandled the unhoused situation. Six years ago, voters approved billion-dollar bond measures and a sales tax increase through Proposition HHH to build and rehabilitate existing housing for the unhoused. Yet less than one-fifth of the projected units have been completed and fewer still are actually ready for permanent use.

A USC/Annenberg Media report (2/12/22) described a “lack of urgency” at City Hall, and said that “city departments were more invested in maintaining the status quo than finding innovative ways to combat the homelessness issue.”

In and around Little Tokyo we see many thousands of market-rate housing units that only the middle and upper classes can afford, at odds with the neighborhood’s working-class history and a source of economic volatility for businesses and residents whose rent skyrocket by proximity.

Council District 14’s previous councilmember, Jose Huizar, was indicted less than two years ago for accepting $800,000 in bribes to expedite a luxury hotel and condominium complex, exploiting his position to profit from gentrifying neighborhoods under his jurisdiction, including Little Tokyo.

The exorbitant costs of housing have forced tens of thousands of Angelenos out of their homes. Predatory loans from the nation’s leading banks targeted borrowers of color and spurred the Great Recession of 2008. Nationally, tens of millions of families lost their homes and wealth through foreclosures and short sales while financial executives took salaries of up to a billion dollars a year. Recently, COVID-19-related layoffs and reduced work hours have worsened the situation. Just and compassionate solutions are required.

We are now in the midst of the mayoral and City Council races, and candidates are assuring the public that the unhoused people are being provided for and resettled with longer-term commitments. But there is not enough interim housing to accommodate the numbers of unhoused displaced from encampments.

Sweeps are the forced, physical removal of unhoused residents and usually the disposal of their belongings, often leading to both bodily and psychological harm. Until better alternatives are offered — and these do exist — we urge Councilman de León to withdraw the order to evict the Toriumi residents and put up a fence in our neighborhood.

Nikkei Progressives is a grassroots, all-volunteer multigenerational community organization that works on issues of justice and fairness within the Japanese American community and beyond. We are descended from Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) and the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO).

In the 1970s redevelopment, LTPRO fought for Little Tokyo and the rights of its multiracial residents, small businesses, and cultural organizations, organizing to ensure they would receive city support to stay in Little Tokyo. Opposing evictions and supporting housing for the unhoused is a continuation of that tradition.

Alex Kanegawa

Avalon Igawa

Jan Tokumaru

June Hibino

Kathy Masaoka

Kayla Yamada

Kimi Maru

Mark Masaoka

Mia Barnett

Miyako Noguchi

Tony Osumi

traci kato-kiriyama

Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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