A homeless man in Los Angeles resorted to living inside an underground utility vault at night just steps away from a historic museum.
The unidentified man was spotted on camera outside the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) last Monday when he lifted one of the vault’s panels to stuff a backpack into the subterranean space.
Security at the museum, which is located in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles, witnessed the man open up another lid and disappeared underground.
“The security guards noticed the incident, called our director of security who came down,” museum CFO Doug Van Kirk told KTLA.
“We don’t know how long or how many times he may have accessed that vault. It’s certainly possible he had been there other times,” said Van Kirk, according to ABC 7.
Utility vaults are underground rooms used to store equipment for public utilities including switches and valves for natural gas and telecommunication systems, and are usually locked and inaccessible by the public.
But with the rise in homelessness in the major city, some people are finding ways to access the space.
The vault outside the JANM stored a water meter, according to the LA Department of Water and Power who spoke with KTLA.
While the vault did not have direct access to the museum, officials claimed it was a fire hazard for the man to remain in the space.
“Given the location of the vault, it’s immediately under the museum and the potential for a very severe incident,” Bill Fujioka, the museum’s Chair for the Board of Trustees told ABC 7. “There’s gas lines down there. There’s electrical lines down there. A fire could have been started down there. We just have to be careful.”
The JANM, founded in 1992, promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.
After watching the man open the second vault, security called the police who arrived looking for the 30-year-old trespasser.
The man, who allegedly struck one of the responding LAPD officers, was arrested and charged with trespassing and battery on a police officer, according to the KTLA.
Police found drugs and a plastic gun when they conducted a search of the man’s belongings.
“They searched the backpack and our understanding is they found a firearm, or a replica of a firearm,” Van Kirk told KTLA.
“Our primary concern has to be that of the safety of our visitors, our staff and volunteers so anything that might affect that is something that we take seriously,” Van Kirk added.
The LAWPD said they plan to seal the two vaults that the man had opened, according to ABC 7.
A report published last month found 171,000 people were homeless in California, making up 30% of the country’s entire homeless population.
Cities around the country implemented a wide range of tactics to battle the local homeless crisis — San Diego opened its first “safe sleeping site” tent city while Portland, Oregon issued a daytime ban on homeless camps.