The discovery of homeless people living in California caves highlights the state’s ongoing homelessness crisis

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California Caves dug by people experiencing homelessness have the community and city officials concerned about the safety of those living under the Tuolumne River. The discovery also highlights the state’s ongoing crisis with unhoused people.

The Modesto Police Department, Tuolumne River Trust, and Operation 9-2-99, a volunteer river cleanup organization, worked together to clean up nearly 7,600 pounds of trash from the caves and surrounding areas, according to an article by CBS13.

The caves, which are located approximately 20 feet below street level, can be entered via a temporary staircase built into the hillside.

Residents living in the area have expressed concerns about the safety of unhoused people living in the cave which should be considered unfit for anyone to live in.

“If one of these caves collapsed, it would be devastating,” Tracy Rojas, a homeowner who lives near the caves, told CBS13 in an interview. “This whole thing is going to come down and go into the water.”

Rojas, who took the CBS13 News team on a tour of one of the caves, said the caves are fully furnished, including many of the necessary daily items a person needs to survive.

The cave contained: bed linen, belongings, food, medicine, items on a makeshift shelf, and weapons, according to Rojas.

“You could see the hooks on the wall where the bottles and stuff were hanging,” Rojas told CBS13. “I think there needs to be more focus on the homeless. They’ve gotten to the point where you can see they’re desperate.”

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Homeless caves on the banks of the Tuolumne River are worrying residents

As many natural phenomena occur along the bank of the Tuolumne River, such as rising water levels and erosion, the property of unhoused people is being swept into the river. Another problem that causes concern is pollution.

“It’s a danger not only to the people who live there, but also to the people who walk there,” Rojas told CBS13.

The caves may have been cleared by now, but the neighborhood near the river feels no real sense of peace in this issue.

“It’s a risk to their safety and to the community,” Rojas told CBS13.

Chris Guptill, coordinator of Operation 9-2-99, told CBS13 that filling the caves likely won’t work. Guptill believes the uninhabited community will dig new caves.

“We don’t really have a known solution on how to deal with it,” Guptill said.

California has the highest rate of homelessness

California has the highest rate of people experiencing homelessness in the United States. California represents nearly 30% of the population and has approximately 162,000 homeless individuals, according to World population review.

Across Los Angeles County, more unsheltered people are living in low-lying areas after being pushed out of neighborhoods when sanitation workers began conducting frequent homeless sweeps in January of last year, advocates told USA TODAY back in August 2023 when it hit Hurricane Hillary Southern California. The sweeps, which Soleil Njo of West Adams Mutual Aid described as “extremely difficult,” have pushed people to live in hard-to-reach places to avoid being swept again.

Increasingly, people are living in “hidden places” or “hiding under” the terrain in order to be “out of the way,” Ngo said. More people are living in their tents along riverbeds, under bridges, in tunnels and underground, Orendorff said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A homeless man has been found living in California caves on the banks of the Tuolumne River

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