Homeless Say Caltrans Threw Away Their Belongings

STOCKTON -- Homeless people who were forced to leave illegal campsites along Stockton interstates last week say Caltrans trashed their personal belongings, despite eviction notices that stated they had 30 days to reclaim property.

"They're just keeping us here longer, because now we have to start from scratch again," Patricia Henderson said.

Henderson told FOX40 she moved her personal belongings from a campsite under Interstate 5 along Weber Ave last week, to a location she thought would be safe on the other side of the freeway and it still ended up being trashed. She said Caltrans maintenance crews threw away her fresh groceries, tent, mattress and her dog's collar.

Another woman named Jo Pine said the crews took clothing, mattresses and her probation documents as well.

"They picked up only people's belongings, with a bulldozer and dumped it into a dumpster," Pine said.

When one of their friends went to the Caltrans office to try to reclaim their property with them later last week, they said Caltrans told them the maintenance crews only collected garbage from the sites and that it had already been disposed of.

Caltrans spokesperson Greg Lawson said his maintenance crews did not throw away anyone's personal belongings Thursday, only trash. Furthermore, he said because the land the homeless people had been camping on is within the state's right of way, Caltrans is not obligated under law to store any of their property. He said they only offer that as a courtesy, and only when items collected are salvageable.

"We give them 72 hours notice and we also tell our maintenance guys to be sensitive, and try to look for valuables, but there's so much trash it's hard to sift through. And we're a lot of times putting our crews at risk because they're finding hypodermic needles and things...but a lot of time most of the stuff we see is trash," Lawson said.

"Things we treasure they wanna call trash, my kids photos," Henderson said.

Lawson said Caltrans is currently working on a proposal to install wrought-iron fences below some Stockton interstates so that homeless people do not continue to have their illegal camps removed only to move right back in days later.

Henderson said she did not want to repeat the cycle again.

"I can walk around with a smile on my face everyday but I'm dying inside to go back to some normalcy. A locked door instead of a zipper on a tent," Henderson said.