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Homeless driven from squatters camp along San Gabriel River

May 28, 2009 | 11:32 am

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Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and Caltrans workers are flushing homeless people from inside a vast vault under the 10 Freeway near the San Gabriel River where it is believed a small community of people have been living for years.

Denizens call it “the cave,” and it is both a squatters camp and a shooting gallery for heroin addicts, accessible only by a narrow opening high in an outside wall of the structure, which is part of the support system for the freeway.

On Wednesday, as authorities made their way with flashlights amid mountains of trash inside the pitch-black dungeon, workers found syringes, knives, an M-16 ammunition clip and a man sleeping near a decomposing animal.

More photosIn several crawlspaces, authorities also found baby rattles and children’s toys that led to speculation that at some point children had lived there.

Deputy Paul Archambault, who is leading the cleanup effort along the riverbed, said the place has been home to dozens of people and that two babies have been born there in recent years. On Friday, Caltrans workers plan to seal the vault with solid metal plates in the hopes of making it impregnable.

Richard Dafoe, 56, who is known as “The Wizard” for his ample white beard and wild hair, said he has been living in and around the Cave for about 10 years and has never seen a child in there.

He said the baby paraphernalia is just bric-a-brac scavenged from recycling expeditions.

This morning he was gathering up his belongings and trying to decide where he’d spend the night. The Cave was a refuge from police, he said.

“It’s basically a safe place to be because the cops can’t get into it,” Dafoe said. “They’re scared. They can’t even go in without a whole lot of backup.”

Dafoe doubted that whatever steps Caltrans took to seal the Cave would be enough to keep people out. In time, he said he would find another way in.

“I don’t say we’re gonna go in right away, but it’s gonna happen sooner or later,” he said.

-- Christopher Goffard and Corina Knoll

Photo: Caltrans Michael Gill holds a light inside "The Cave," a vast vault under the 10 Freeway near the San Gabriel River in El Monte. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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