Local makes home underground
March 22, 2018
CLOVIS — He's made his home in a hole in the ground on Clovis' west side.
Sean Heron, 43, said he has been there for over a year not hiding, and not seeking attention. But he has attracted attention in recent days from police and area residents.
Police discovered him March 9 after being alerted "that a guy was living in the ground" near a field, according to a Clovis Police Department incident report.
The reporting party said that "since a park was very close by, he thought it best to notify police and that is when he called me," Capt. Roger Dial wrote in the report.
On arrival officers made contact with Heron.
"I held a flashlight as (the reporting party) began to show me and look into the hole," Dial wrote. "I heard a voice from within the hole say 'hello.' I took the flashlight and instructed the male to exit the hole in the ground."
Heron emerged and told police he was "homeless and had been living in this hole ..."
Dispatch soon advised officers of a warrant against Heron for an unrelated misdemeanor trespassing charge from September. Police arrested him and he was released days later on his own recognizance, pending a court date next month.
It was a period of hardship and necessity that drove him to pursue his living arrangement, Heron said.
"It started last year in the snow and ice storm. I had broken my hand," he said, indicating two fingers were still healing from the injury that placed him in the hospital soon before he lost his job and then-residence. "So I just dug a hole. My first intention was just to get my gear out of the weather."
He said he started on that digging in February 2017, and after another month and a half had established a place that could accommodate him, too. By August he had completed the hole much as it exists today, he said, and over time has even developed a relationship with the creatures in his neighborhood, so to speak.
In the area surrounding the largely vacant field are two foxes, a great horned owl, ground squirrels and gophers, he said. But it is the prairie dogs with whom the closest affinity was established.
"They're the best neighbors you could ever have, if they like you," he said. "They're my friends. They alert me when other people come around."
Heron recalled a day after about three months of inhabitation there when he emerged from the hole and found himself surrounded with prairie dogs, which he took as a gesture of acceptance.
As for the skill and experience that went into digging the space, Heron referred to inspiration from friends who served in the military and time in his home state of Arizona with Native Americans.
"I hung around with the Blackfoot, Apache in Arizona about 18 months," he said.
Heron came to Clovis in 1999 and worked several jobs in the years since, and only became homeless last year.
"And that's all it takes for people to forget about you," he said, but he was hopeful to get back into some manual work by summer and eventually relocate back to the surface.
"I don't plan on staying here the rest of my life," he added.
Heron's dwelling is the product of some considerable work. An individual can squeeze through a small opening in the earth and descend, with the support of a rope tied to a tree above, some four steps into the subterranean space. There, Heron keeps tools in a couple of buckets and other items on some improvised shelves on the walls. A sleeping bag occupies an attached compartment of the cozy interior.
Clovis Police Capt. Roman Romero urged any would-be explorers of the space to think twice, stating it could "endanger their lives."
"I don't know if the builder is a structural engineer, but most likely not," he wrote. "Confined spaces, without proper ventilation and support are very dangerous."
Romero said city officials were notified about Heron's living quarters, but it was "noted to be on private property."
Clovis Dr. Ali Ghaffari is the property owner, and it's up to him if he wants to pursue trespassing charges on Heron, police said. Ghaffari said he'd rather help Heron than run him off.
Ghaffari said he did not know about Heron until police told him. He said he saw a video of unclear provenance, posted online the night before, depicting the space's interior.
This is at least the second such video shared on social media since Monday. The first was removed within hours, but the latter drew more than 8,000 views in less than a day.
"I thought it was awesome," said lifelong Clovis resident Julian Montoya after hearing of the dwelling. "A man doing what he has to do for survival. Any one of us would have done the same."
Ghaffari said it was the interest shown in Heron's living conditions that started him thinking the community as a whole might be able to help somehow. He said he was touched by the work Heron put into the space and would not be in a hurry to fill in the hole or try to make him leave.
"I really felt moved by it," he said. "I'd really like to help him somehow ... And that's all we are here for. We have one of our fellow citizens living like that, there really should be something Clovis can do."
Ghaffari said he hoped citizens or other community entities might find a way to raise money for Heron, or help him locate other work or living accommodations.
Heron himself told The News that he isn't seeking or in much need of outside help. His needs are adequately met in his current conditions, he said, and he was surprised others hadn't pursued similar accommodations.
"The heating and cooling bill would be nonexistent. It's 60, 70 degrees (down there) all the time," he said. "People are never happy unless they've got something to complain about."