Slab City, California: A Home for the Homeless

Mar 8, 2012 14 comments

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.


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)


Trailers in Slab City. Photo credit


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


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)


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)


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


Photo: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times


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)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


  1. Great pix of Slab City!

  2. And people were saying that China is backwards and horrible for letting people live in boxes packed in rooms... This is America. 7 kids in a trailer in the middle of the desert with no running water or electricity, internet to learn from, air conditioner with 110+ degrees in summer, etc... And how do they get to school? See what I mean? Who are we to point the finger? A very American habit, by the way...

    1. @ AnonymousFebruary 26, 2013 at 8:31 AM, I would imagine they go there to get away from people like you.

    2. They go to elementary and middle school at the nearest town, Niland, which is only about 5 miles away. The high school is in Calipatria, about 15 miles away from Niland. These pictures brought back a lot of memories from when my family lived there. Imagine 8 kids and 2 parents in a converted school bus! It was a mix of horribleness and innocence to be a kid out there.

    3. But we have capitalism, we're told. Everyone has the opportunity to become wealthy here, with enough hard work, we're told. Unlike countless other countries, at least we enjoy our freedom--freedom to communicate privately our most intimate thoughts...err, OK, maybe not--but free to realize our individual potential through scholastic...err, OK, maybe not--but free to live how and where we...dang it...

    4. You miss the whole point, its freedom, its life, its not even close to compared to china, no one forcing them, this s choice for a different life free of the so called internet,tv,and other things that totally are non human,

  3. The true meaning of freedom is to be free...

  4. Amen, I have lived on both sides of the spectrum. Unfortunately people are being brainwashed as to what is wrong and right currently. As far as living off the grid goes, I have nothing but respect for people who say to hell with the current status quoi and can be self sufficient. The person talking trash would not make it two days without the help of others or the government. These people are survivors when you get down to the reality of things.

    Smoke a fatty for me...RMY formally of Mohave desert....pacific northwest in the off season.

  5. I live in Northern Calif but my oldest Son (52) has lived in Slab City for 20 years and believe me, it's no picnic down there! I have been down there and visited several times over
    the years. Ed renounced this life because he is an alcoholic and wanted his freedom to drink
    as much and as often as possible.
    Now he is missing and has been for two weeks and the police don't seem to have a clue as to where he is or if he is still alive. They SAY that they're doing all they can but when I call
    there's never anyone that can or will talk to me about his case. If they'd get a subpoena they could get into his bank records and that would be a good clue for them!

  6. finding this place has been a blessing for me, just leave me @&%$~@ alone do not want anyone bothering me for once in my life I am happy

  7. This is THE PLACE for me! I will start making my plans today-get rid of all my extra stuff and make my move down there from San Bernardino. I have lived in this same apartment for 23 years and thru that time it has been mostly a good experience, but times change and now new management is pestering me to death and keep raising the rent and soon I will have to leave. The neighborhood is shot now to boot-so time to move on!

  8. ofcourse television is lie and goverment

  9. I say ignore all that you've heard or read -- take a chance -- experience The Slabs for yourself for a few weeks and *then* decide. My wife and I are newly retired as of 10/24/15 and we were a little fearful and nervous our first night. Now that we've actually been here for three weeks, we love it and it feels like home! People able to live life on their own terms without constant financial duress tend to be happy. Happy people are an asset to the planet and every group they associate with. Everyone else is a group liability. So I say get happy or STFU -- pretty simple really. If you don't know how easy it can be to be happy in this life, nobody cares about what you have to say. They may pretend to listen . . . but only long enough to get away.

    1. How do people get their supply of food from up there? Are there community dinners? Do They Farm? Do They Live Off Pensions And Income Assistance?
      I really would be interesting in finding out since you've been up there already.


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