Another shanty town community has been found in central California, where homeless people have dug into a riverbank and live out of caves.
Residents of Riverbank, California, say that efforts to clean up a homeless camp on the banks of the Stanislaus River have been unsuccessful. The city is located about 10 miles north of Modesto, where a similar situation made national headlines after homeless people were found living in caves along the Tuolumne River.
“As soon as they get kicked out, the night after they get kicked out, they just start digging,” Riverbank resident Eddie Eagleton told KOVR in an interview. “Doesn’t seem like anyone can slow them down or stop them.”
Eagleton, who frequently fishes in the Stanislaus River, said he has witnessed the homeless living out of caves dug into the banks below Highways 108 and 120.
“It’s pretty amazing what 15 to 20 people can do in a night or two,” Eagleton told the local news station. “They got generators down there. They got power, water pumps.”
City officials have tried to clean up the area, warning that the encampments pollute the area and cause erosion along the river. But the people who’ve made it their home will not leave.
“It’s a very high priority. First off, it’s pollution. It’s a danger to themselves or others if that river happens to rise rapidly,” Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien told KOVR.
The mayor said his city remains in search of a solution that doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights but also protects the environment and public health.
“They have the right to live on public property, according to the courts. The Supreme Court is going to take that, so we’ll see there,” O’Brien said.
Complaints about the homelessness situation in Riverbank follow the discovery of at least eight caves in nearby Modesto that were inhabited by the homeless there.
Volunteers with Operation 9-2-99 and the Tuolumne River Trust worked with the Modesto Police Department to clear the caves out over the weekend, removing some 7,600 pounds of garbage from the area, authorities 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,” the Modesto Police Department said in a statement.
The cleared debris filled two truckloads and a trailer, police added.
A KOVR camera crew sent to explore the Modesto caves reported finding bedding, belongings, food, items on a makeshift mantel, drugs and weapons inside.
Tracy Rojas, a Modesto resident who lives near the caves, said it is dangerous for people to take up residence underground.
“If one of these were to collapse, it would be devastating,” she told KOVR. “This whole thing would come down and go into the water.”
Officials have since installed temporary barricades to keep people out of the caves.