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Homeless people in California were found living in caves along the Tuolumne River before they were cleared out by the Modesto Police Department and volunteers over the weekend.

Volunteers with Operation 9-2-99 and the Tuolumne River Trust worked with police to clear them out, 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. 

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Ahead of the cleanup, individuals residing in the caves and nearby homeless camps were told about the operation and informed of services to assist them, the department said.

The caves were about 20 feet below street level, and some were fully furnished, indicating that vagrants had been living there for some time. Items found inside included bedding, belongings, food, items on a makeshift mantel, drugs and weapons, local news station KOVR reported. 

“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,” Operation 2-9-99 coordinator Chris Guptill told KOVR. 

Guptill was one of many volunteers who participated in the cleanup. He said his group found eight caves in total, and this was not the first time they were occupied.

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A cave entrance where homeless people set up residences

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

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.” 

Homelessness is a growing crisis in California.

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A makeshift tent belonging to a homeless person

The city of Los Angeles, about 300 miles south of Modesto, recently began recruiting up to 6,000 volunteers to count homeless people. 

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority-led street tally helps the county government’s efforts to tackle a homeless crisis, which has crippled the city with tens of thousands of people living on the streets, living in cars, tents and makeshift street shelters. These temporary homes have proliferated on sidewalks, in parks and other community areas.

The so-called “point-in-time” count aims to estimate how many people are homeless and what financial or medical services they may require for potential mental health conditions or from drug addiction.

This count comes as California residents have grown increasingly frustrated over lawmakers’ failure to deter the surging homeless population. Since 2015, homelessness has increased by 70% in Los Angeles County and 80% in the city.

In 2023, officials reported more than 75,500 people were homeless on any given night in LA County, a 9% rise from a year earlier, and about 46,200 within the city of Los Angeles.

“Homelessness is an emergency, and it will take all of us working together to confront this emergency,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement, calling the count “an important tool to confront the homelessness crisis.” 

Fox News Digital’s Lawrence Richard contributed to this report.

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