Photos: Gardener experiencing homelessness builds 'Hillside Estate' near freeway

On paper, it sounds like a must-see property: a hillside home in Pacoima with a white-picket fence, views, art displays and meticulous landscaping. It even has a built-in children’s slide. 

But the hillside that Colima, Mexico native Jose Fuente developed is actually part of a homeless encampment off the 118 freeway at Glenoaks Boulevard. He has taken great pride in using his skills as a gardener and landscaper to transform this once trash-filled encampment to a picturesque home. 

"People love it. I have people climbing up the mountain to go give him gifts, like he’s Baby Jesus, almost," said Nathaniel Padilla, an owner of the time-honored El Canelo Restaurant in Pacoima, which is next to the encampment. 

"We have a great relationship with this gentleman," Padilla adds. "Honestly, he never does anything to offend anybody so we don’t have any reason to call any police or anyone to remove him from here. He helps us clean up our shopping center. Keeps it nice and tidy for us."

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Jose said that no one has ever asked him to leave the hillside or offered him housing, but that he would take it if it was. In the meantime, he said working the land brings him joy, and it makes him happy to know that his work makes others smile. 

Caltrans provided FOX 11 with the following statement in regards to the encampment:

  • "Consistent with CDC guidance to prevent community spread of COVID-19, Caltrans is proceeding with encampment cleanups if there is an immediate safety concern or threat to critical infrastructure.
  • We will continue to work with cities and other partners to move people into safer situations as available.
  • Caltrans also continues to work with local agencies to provide those living in the encampments with resources for safer living situations as available in an effort to keep the individuals and the freeways safe."

FOX 11 also reached out to LA City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, whose office responded in a statement:

"The 118 and Glenoaks site is one of many locations that Caltrans has been negligent in maintaining. To address the lack of coordination and effort to clear the state right-of-ways in her district, the Councilwoman has introduced legislation to quantify the maintenance responsibility and cost our City has endured when responding to emergencies in their right of way.

 In absence of their responsiveness, Council District staff has completed various maintenance services within the area around that location where we have jurisdiction. The Councilwoman continues to seek Caltrans’ cooperation and support to maintain their right-of-ways and work with appropriate agencies to coordinate services for the unhoused who are living on state property."

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