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Slab City, California: A Home for the Homeless

Slab City is an informal community in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California, used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs and pylons that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks Camp Dunlap there. A group of servicemen remained after the base closed, and the place has been inhabited ever since. Now it is home base for nearly 2,000 people who can't afford to live anywhere else.

Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. These "snowbirds" stay only for the winter, before migrating north in the spring to cooler climates. The temperatures during the summer are unforgiving; nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in the Slabs all year round. Most of these "Slabbers" derive their living by way of government checks (SSI and Social Security) and have been driven to the Slabs through poverty.

The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The camp has no electricity, no running water or other services. Many campers use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. Supplies can be purchased in nearby Niland, California, located about three miles (5 km) to the southwest of Slab City.

Located just east of State Route 111, the entrance to Slab City is easily recognized by the colorful Salvation Mountain, a small hill approximately three stories high which is entirely covered in acrylic paint, concrete and adobe and festooned with Bible verses. It is an ongoing project of over two decades by permanent resident Leonard Knight.

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An old checkpoint, now painted as a welcome sign, is seen at a site locals call Slab City just outside Niland, California. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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Trailers in Slab City. Photo credit

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Raphael and Maileina Luciano with their 10-month-old daughter Evelyn outside their trailer in Slab City. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

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Kamaile Luciano, 12, plays with her 10-month-old sister Evelyn inside their family's RV parked in Slab City. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

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Covered in mud, Kamaile Luciano, 12, the oldest of seven children, dives off of a concrete structure and into the hot springs on the outskirts of Slab City. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

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Dylan Luciano, 7, soaks in the dishwashing tub beside the hot springs on the outskirts of Slab City. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

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Photo: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

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East Jesus, a reference to the middle of nowhere, is home to artists as well as their sculptures in Slab City, where Christmas lights illuminate the camp. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

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The first hole of the Gopher Flats golf course is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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An art installation called "Salvation Mountain" is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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People eat lunch in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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A sign for an art installation called East Jesus is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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The library is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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An art installation is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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An art installation is seen in Slab City. (Eric Thayer / Reuters)

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