March 1, 2024

Rough sleepers in California were found living inside furnished caves dug into the banks of a river 20 feet below street level. 

The groups were removed from the eight caves – along the Tuolumne River in Modesto – over the weekend, and they were emptied of belongings, furniture and 7,600 lbs of rubbish, filling two trucks and a trailer. 

Some of the caves were decorated with murals, had broken floor tiles and one even had a makeshift fireplace with a chimney. 

Modesto Police Department said: ‘This particular area has been plagued by vagrancy and illegal camps, which have raised concerns due to the fact that these camps were actually caves dug into the riverbanks.’

It comes as Los Angeles carries out its annual homeless count to try to take an accurate snapshot of the rough sleeper population in the city, after 75,500 were found to be sleeping rough in the county on any given night last year.  

The caves were hard to access and police weren’t sure how they had managed to get so much stuff down there

Groups were removed from the eight caves over the weekend

Groups were removed from the eight caves over the weekend

Some of the caves were fully furnished with an armchair, clothes and blankets

Some of the caves were fully furnished with an armchair, clothes and blankets

The community living in the caves had carved makeshift stairs into the hillside leading down to them. 

The caves reportedly had to be vacated for safety reasons, local resident Tracy Rojas, told CBS: ‘If one of these were to collapse, it would be devastating. 

‘This whole thing would come down and go into the water.’ 

She added: ‘It’s a hazard for not only the people who are living in there but the people who are walking up there.’ 

Some of the caves used to be fully furnished with bedding, belongings, food, a makeshift mantelpiece but also drugs and weapons, according to Rojas. 

She said: ‘You can see the hooks on the wall where they had bottles and stuff hanging down. 

‘I think there needs to be more emphasis on the homeless. They are at the point where you can see they are desperate.’

It wasn’t the first time police have gone to clear out the caves and they are frequently inhabited. 

The caves are dug into the banks of the river at water level with steps carved into the bank

The caves are dug into the banks of the river at water level with steps carved into the bank

Police removed 7,600 lbs of rubbish from the caves

Police removed 7,600 lbs of rubbish from the caves 

A team of volunteers came out over the weekend to help, but they said they don't have a solution to stop people moving back in

A team of volunteers came out over the weekend to help, but they said they don’t have a solution to stop people moving back in

Volunteer Chris Guptill said: ‘It’s already been proven that people will dig these out, so I don’t think filling them in with any material would work.

‘We really don’t have a known solution on how to deal with it.’ 

It comes as Los Angeles carries out their annual homeless count, trying to establish how many people there are living on the city’s streets. 

Over 6,000 volunteers with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority are taking part in the three day count. 

They are trying to take a snapshot to establish how many people are unhoused and health or physical health services they may need.

California is battling a ‘state of emergency’ over homelessness as crime spikes and businesses desert some of the state’s city centers.  

Last year’s count estimated over 75,500 people were homeless on any given night in LA County, a nine percent rise on 2022. 

Los Angeles is currently carrying out their homeless count to try to work out how many people are sleeping rough in the city

Los Angeles is currently carrying out their homeless count to try to work out how many people are sleeping rough in the city

Last year over 75,500 people were sleeping rough in the LA county on any one given night

Last year over 75,500 people were sleeping rough in the LA county on any one given night

Tents line a Los Angeles sidewalk during bad weather on January 20

Tents line a Los Angeles sidewalk during bad weather on January 20 

Image shows rows of makeshift places to stay for people sleeping rough at night

Image shows rows of makeshift places to stay for people sleeping rough at night  

Mayor Karen Bass committed herself to tackling the homeless crisis as soon as she took office last year

Mayor Karen Bass committed herself to tackling the homeless crisis as soon as she took office last year

Assaults with a deadly weapon, sexual assaults and incidents involving the homeless have all increased

Assaults with a deadly weapon, sexual assaults and incidents involving the homeless have all increased

Since 2015, homelessness has increased by 70 percent in the county and 80 percent in Los Angeles city itself. 

Last year, California had about a third of all homeless people in the country, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and other Golden State cities have among the largest numbers of unsheltered people in the country.

In that count, Los Angeles had the most homeless people in the state, 65,111.

But five other metropolitan hubs — San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco — also featured in the top 10 of America’s worst-hit cities, each with their own roughly 10,000 homeless.

Some 70 percent of Californians said homelessness and the cost of housing are a ‘big problem’ for the state at the time, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.