LOS ANGELES – The city of Los Angeles will close and fence off a plaza in Little Tokyo on Thursday that has become the site of a large homeless encampment during the COVID-19 pandemic – but the plan has drawn protests from some local groups defense of the homeless.
Councilman Kevin de León’s office, which represents the plaza area, said Toriumi Plaza, located at First and Judge John Aiso streets, was closed for maintenance, electrical repairs, landscaping, permanent fencing and other work. auxiliaries. A timetable for the reopening of the square was not immediately available.
Since Feb. 16, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has conducted outreach and brought 55 people from the place to shelters, though about 25 to 30 people remain, de León’s office said Wednesday.
LAHSA also provided 185 people in the area with referrals for substance abuse programs, housing and shelter options, mental health services, survivorship resources and coronavirus-related services, according to de León’s office. .
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Those brought inside were placed in several facilities, including temporary shelter A Bridge Home, temporary housing Hilda L. Solis Care First Village, and permanent placements under the Project Roomkey program at Hotel Cecil, which is now operated by Skid Row. Housing Trust, de León’s office said.
However, the plan to keep people living in the square away was protested by J-Town Action and Solidarity, a grassroots community organization in Little Tokyo that worked with We The Unhoused to provide hot meals, water and supplies to people living in the plaza every Saturday for the past year.
Homeless encampment on Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo. (FOX 11)
J-Town, along with We The Unhoused and Ktown for All, staged a protest with dozens of people on Sunday and plans another rally at 7 a.m. Thursday, before the city closes the square at 10 p.m.
J-Town is protesting the city’s removal of homeless residents, as well as the accommodation options it has provided – alleging that the Project Roomkey program, which provides hotel rooms to homeless people, includes ” prison-like conditions and restrictive policies”. “
Some residents of the Roomkey project, including a group that organized last year as Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing, have alleged they were subject to debilitating curfews that restricted their job opportunities, as well as confiscations, security harassment, lack of privacy and other rules as a condition of placement.
J-Town is calling on the city to reverse its plans to close Toriumi Plaza and instead provide the people living there with permanent housing and full services. It is also seeking the city to use the roughly $1.76 billion it invests annually in police for permanent housing and services for all of the city’s homeless residents.
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“Sending in deadly armed police to tear down tents and destroy people’s belongings doesn’t make housing more accessible, and the ‘housing’ he (de León) offers is temporary and akin to prisons,” he said. Gianna Furumoto, an organizer with J-Town Action and Solidarity, told City News Service on Tuesday.
“We know of many residents of Toriumi Plaza who have accepted the Roomkey project and are already back in the square – not by choice, but because they were evicted from PRK to make room for newly swept people.”
De León’s office said community members and nearby businesses had complained about the camp’s presence in the plaza and that there had been several overdoses, at least one sexual assault, drug dealing, vandalism, assaults and fires at the location reported to the police. .
Candy Kisswani, owner of Mike’s Deli across the square, told City News Service that business “has taken a hit” since the encampment grew across the street and she been complaining to the councilman’s office for two years.
She said she and her staff have experienced incidents of people breaking their windows, getting violent, relieving themselves on the sidewalk outside the deli, using drugs and leaving needles behind outside the deli’s door.
“It needs to be cleaned. It’s really not safe,” Kisswani said.
Dora Hanamure, who works and is married to the owner of Mitsuru Sushi & Grill, told City News Service on Wednesday that they haven’t encountered many problems with the nearby encampment, but customers have complained that they don’t come. feel safe in Little Tokyo.
Furumoto said J-Town Action and Solidarity has communicated with nearby businesses about their concerns.
“Our position at JAS is that if you don’t want to see these people do drugs, the only thing is to provide them with permanent accommodation. The people who are housed also do drugs, they just have the privilege of doing it in their own space. . …
“What we need to provide is service to the homeless community rather than bringing more violence and displacement to them, which only compounds everything that these business owners are complaining about,” Furumoto said. .
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