Press Release: Mayoral Candidate Kevin De Leon Orders Sweep of Unhoused and Fence Around Public Space in Little Tokyo


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 09, 2022

LOS ANGELES – Under direction of current mayoral candidate Councilmember Kevin De Leon, Los Angeles City Council District 14 (CD14), is ordering a sweep of Little Tokyo’s Toriumi Plaza that will bring the forced removal of unhoused community members and their belongings on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Los Angeles County Department of Transportation (LADOT) is also projected to install a fence around the plaza – located at 101 Judge John Aiso St. – in the aftermath of the sweep, similar to the fences that were erected in Echo Park and MacArthur Park after unhoused communities there were also swept in 2021.

After multiple attempts to contact the CD14 office were ignored, J-Town Action and Solidarity (JAS), We The Unhoused (WTU), and other members of the Little Tokyo community are calling for Councilmember Kevin De Leon to immediately cancel this violent sweep and demanding that he open communications with all members of the community so that their concerns for the future of the unhoused community at Toriumi Plaza can be heard.

JAS and We the Unhoused, who organize Power Up Days at the plaza  every Saturday to provide hot meals, tents, clothes, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hygiene items to the unhoused community in the absence of sufficient services and action by city officials, have published a petition with a list of demands and will host a rally against the sweep and fence on Sunday, March 13 at 3:00pm down the street from Toriumi Plaza at 1st St. and Central Ave. We the Unhoused will also be hosting their second “Can You See Me?” Vigil to memorialize the unhoused members of the community who have passed on Saturday, March 12th at 11:00am at City Hall, 200 N Spring St.

“As one of the business owners in Little Tokyo, I support the Toriumi Plaza's resident's decision to either peacefully stay in Toriumi Plaza or accept temporary shelter, with concerns of its quality of housing and effectiveness of it leading to permanent supportive housing, with full support and guidance on what it involves,” an unnamed neighboring business owner said, “My parents and I are concerned about the increase in presence of lethally armed police in Little Tokyo on the day the city will be displacing the residents.”

The impending Toriumi Plaza sweep comes exactly seven months after the City of Los Angeles passed LAMC 41.18, a highly disputed ordinance that prohibits sitting, sleeping or storing personal belongings on city sidewalks, effectively criminalizing the existence of unhoused Angelenos. In the months since the passage of LAMC 41.18, the unhoused community in Toriumi Plaza exploded in population as encampments from all around CD14 have been displaced, leaving the plaza as one of the few spaces for unhoused Angelenos to exist. Toriumi Plaza residents have also reported that the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and non-profit organizations like The People Concern use the plaza as a drop off point when displacing or moving those without housing or shelter, instead of integrating them into city-funded programs. Still, the residents of Toriumi Plaza consistently face constant harassment from city officials, ranging from the removal of essential hand-washing stations and restrooms during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the repeated threats of a sweep made by De Leon’s office in an attempt to intimidate unhoused residents into self-eviction from the plaza. 

“Little Tokyo is no stranger to displacement, criminalization and incarceration. It is also no stranger to radical politics and Black solidarity. It's extremely shameful to me that some people in this community refuse to acknowledge history is repeating itself with Executive Order 9066 and LAMC 41.18,” Zen Sekizawa, a member of JAS said, “The displacement happening in Toriumi plaza is only one block away from where our people were bused off to WWII concentration camps. I hope for the survival of my community, people who fundamentally understand how Little Tokyo is plagued by systemic issues like gentrification, policing and anti-blackness, will start standing up and making their voices heard.”

Instead of offering long-term housing, the
Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) and their non-profit partners Urban Alchemy have been offering temporary housing such as Project Roomkey, which has been criticized by many activists from organizations such as Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing (UTACH) and
Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) as having prison-like conditions and restrictive policies. Additionally, during the pandemic, shelters often have become hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks, while the city’s insufficient outreach and programs continue to subject unhoused community members to an endless cycle of houselessness.

“Little Tokyo has been on the target list for erasure and displacement. Ironically, we have seen this before in this community. The same divisive playbook is being used. The vulnerable community is to blame for our social ills and the oppressing forces are the heroes and victims,” Theo Henderson from We the Unhoused said.

About We the Unhoused

"We The Unhoused" is a podcast created by Theodore Henderson, an unhoused Angeleno advocating for the rights of the unhoused community, aimed to shed light on the daily hardships that unhoused folks in Los Angeles through centering their voices and interviewing different unhoused guests in each episode. Listeners can tune into “We the Unhoused” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and support Theo’s work by subscribing to the “We the Unhoused” Patreon.

About J-Town Action and Solidarity

J-TOWN Action と Solidarity (JAS) is a grassroots collective building community power in Little Tokyo. Their work is rooted in a history of activism and community care driven by long standing connections to Little Tokyo as well as solidarity work with communities fighting inequitable development across Los Angeles. In collaboration with We the Unhoused, JAS organizes Power Up Days at Toriumi Plaza every Saturday afternoon to provide device charging, hot food and snacks, hygiene and harm reduction supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), clothes, and tents to the unhoused residents. The Power Ups provide a compassionate space for unhoused neighbors and other stakeholders of Little Tokyo to build community and reclaim people power in the hostile City of Los Angeles, where over 40,000 Angelenos remain unhoused.


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