The former military base, closed and abandoned after World War II, called Slab City, now attracts a wide variety of poor and homeless – the victims of the recession who could no longer pay for food and lodging.
Slab City is a squatters’ camp deep in the badlands of California’s poorest county, where the road ends and the sun reigns, about 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles and hour’s drive from the Mexican border. The vast state-owned property gets its name from the concrete slabs spread out across the desert floor, the last remnants of a World War II–era military base. In the decades since it was decommissioned, dropouts and fugitives of all stripes have swelled its winter population to close to a thousand, though no one’s really counting. These days, their numbers are growing thanks to a modest influx of recession refugees, attracted by do-it-yourself, rent-free living beyond the reach of electricity, running water and the law.
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.
In December of 2011, Knight was placed in a long-term care facility in El Cajon for dementia. Concern has been raised for the future of the site, which requires constant maintenance due to the harsh surrounding environment. Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project, and a group of volunteers have been working to protect and maintain the site.
Most of the”Slabbers” derive their living by way of government checks (SSI and Social Security) and have been driven to the Slabs through poverty. The camp has no electricity, no running water or other services.
Photos by: Eric Thayer for REUTERS