Inside Seven
Current Issue: April 2014
article
Feature
Caltrans bridge crewmember cuts the door off the vaults or Cave under the interchange.

Caltrans Cleans “The Cave” Under a Freeway
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 06/2009

Caltrans works with local law enforcement to clear a homeless encampment from under a freeway interchange.

Under the I-10/I-605 interchange exists two vaults about the size of two high school gymnasiums. Over the years, these vaults have become home to an unknown amount of homeless individuals and possibly families.

The homeless living under the interchange or what they refer to as the “The Cave,” have accumulated enormous amounts of trash, salvaged items, and personal items along with dead pets inside of the vault, leaving it reeking of death and decay.

The squatters were able to enter the vault after they bent back the metal sheeting that Caltrans placed years ago to prevent people from entering. To enter and exit the vault, squatters used makeshift ladders. The ladders were also used to access the “loft” sections of the bridge.

Speaking about the magnitude of this problem, Deputy District Director of Maintenance Dan Freeman said, “Encampments similar to this one exist throughout the state, along California’s freeways and highways.”

“What our crews found inside should not be considered a safe place for any human being to live,” Freeman said,

In the past, transients searching for highly sought after and valuable copper destroyed the wiring for the lighting and fiber optics used in freeway meters on the bridge section of the interchange. Bridge and maintenance crews were unable to access the necessary portions of the bridge due to the large encampment of homeless. In weeks prior to the clean up, a few paroles were arrested and sheriff deputies were in search of a suspect who killed another homeless man in the area, according to Deputy Paul Achambault, who has led the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) effort for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD).

“Based on the amount of mattresses, blankets, and sheets, the vault may have housed 35 to 40 people at different times,” Archambault said. Surprisingly, Archambault found what to appeared to be nurseries for children in some of the crevices. Steve Whitmore, a Senior Media Advisor for the LASD, emphatically said of the conditions inside the encampment, “This is not taking a home. This place should not be considered as a place to live.”

To remedy the problems existing under the interchange, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department began a multipronged approach to clearing the vaults under the bridge in March. Staff from Los Angeles County social service agencies and deputies passed out flyers and spoke to the homeless at several homeless camps along the San Gabriel River for several weeks, notifying them that Caltrans and the City of Baldwin Park would begin clearing the debris and other matter from under the interchange on May 27.

To clear the hazardous leftovers in the vaults, Caltrans hired a hazardous materials contractor. The materials were then transported to a dumpster by the City of Baldwin Park.

To prevent any further access to the vaults, Caltrans welded shut one of the crawl spaces, as well as, the two access doors on the western side of the interchange.

To help the displaced homeless, the LASD held a health fair triage at San Angelo Park in the City of La Puente on May 28. The Los Angeles County Departments of Public Social Services and Mental Health, along with several non-profits provided medical examinations, consultation, food, and housing assistance at the fair.

To sum up Caltrans involvement in the operation, Freeman said, “As the steward of California’s thousands of miles of roadway, Caltrans has the responsibility to work with people and other agencies and do our part in keeping our roadways clean and safe.”
 

Exterior of the Cave. Interior of the Cave Lofts under the interchange were used for living spaces. Interior of the Cave.