Homeless Found Living in Furnished Underground Caves Beneath California

By: Riley Brown | Published: Jan 31, 2024

Homeless encampments have recently been discovered in California and constructed using trash and other found roadside materials. The New York Post notes that these encampments were discovered along the riverside, prompting many to wonder about their personal safety.

The homes were allegedly cleared out in mid-January, but its former residents could come back. Here’s what you need to know. 

Central California Homless Camps Aren’t as Uncommon as You Might Think

While the sheer size of the homeless community in Central California recently prompted the setup to make headlines, homelessness in California is unfortunately not uncommon.

Live footage of the caves is shown in a screengram from CBS News Sacramento

Source: CBS News Sacramento/YouTube

The state is currently home to 28% percent of all of the homeless population that resides in the United States, according to the Senate Housing Committee. While the concern has always been pervasive, there was a surge between 2019-2020.

Welcome to Modesto, CA

A moderately-sized river bank community has emerged in Modesto, California. The bustling metropolis, home to both farming and corporate communities, is now home to something else: deep, underground caves.

Homeless pad (left) shown next to downtown Modesto (right)

Source: Canva

Locals and officials found homeless people living in trash and drug-filled caves along the riverbank recently, requiring a clear out.

How Were These Caves Made?

While it might be difficult to imagine, the construction of these caves were reportedly sophisticated for the given materials and settings. 

A man shows the inside of a homeless encampment in Modesto

Source: ABC10/YouTube

New York Post journalists reported that the living areas were created with trash, leftover construction supplies, and old furniture. Drug paraphernalia and other items were found surrounding the area.

A Life Underground

These homes weren’t just constructed along the river bank in the shallow areas of the land. Instead, they were dug straight down, leading to deep underground homes for these Modesto residents.

The deep caves in the mountainside are shown in a drone shot from CBS News Sacramento

Source: CBS News Sacramento / YouTube

Some of the makeshift homes were as deep as 20 feet. They were made accessible by hand-carved mud stairs going down into the earth.

The Police Intervene

While severe to others outside of the area, citizens and officers of Modesto stated that this didn’t come as a surprise to them. 

A police officer gives an interview outside of a homeless encampment.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The New York Post quoted the Modesto Police Department in a formal statement: “This particular area has been plagued by vagrancy and illegal camp, which have raised concerns due to the fact that these camps were actually caves.” 


More Than Inconvenience

Homeless advocates affirm that those experiencing homelessness are worthy of support and care until the situation improves.

Trash at a homeless encampment

Source: iDigit4/YouTube

While many citizens may agree, their empathy was met with equal levels of concern for hygiene and disease control due to the high amounts of trash found in the area. 


How Much Trash Was There, Exactly?

The New York Post notes that there were over 7,000 pounds of trash taken from the site when the camps were disbanded.

A pile of garbage is shown taking over a street

Source: CBS 8 San Diego/YouTube

The equivalent amount, per the New York Post, is about two trucks and a fully loaded trailer of trash alone. This may or may not include construction materials or furniture used in the encampment.


The Logistical Process: Creating an Underground World

Many viewers and readers can’t understand the logistical process behind creating such an underground world. 

An underground cave home is shown in a still close up on ABC10.

Source: ABC 10 News/YouTube

Volunteers that disbanded the encampment affirmed this, per the New York Post. “We had a hard time figuring out how they got so much stuff down in there, considering how hard it was to get it up the hill and out,” said volunteer Chris Guptill.


Stepping Into a World Unknown

Local residents, such as Tracy Rojas, an informant for the New York Post, stated that they were concerned due to the possibility of collapse.

An example of a furnished cave is shown, courtesy of a New York Post YouTube screencap.

Source: New York Post/YouTube

Ms. Rojas noted that she saw that the caves were furnished and that there were even wall hooks, decor, and more.


Pulling Together

Ms. Rojas confirmed to The Post: “There needs to be more emphasis on the homeless…they are desperate.”

A homeless man poses stoically for the camera

Source: Invisible People/YouTube

Other volunteers told The Post they believe that the homeless will return, especially as they recognized a few familiar faces. The Post confirms that the police are working with the community to re-home the homeless and support all involved.


Could This Be a Good Long-Term Solution?

While this situation isn’t ideal, agencies are working to provide as much notice and support as possible. The Post confirms that dwellers were given notice prior to the clearout occurring.

A still shot of the Tuolumne River before the homeless encampments came in

All Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting/YouTube

Mr. Guptill, a volunteer, doesn’t know that filling the caves is the answer, however. He noted that he participated in a 2022 cleanup in the same location and situation.