Homeless shelter removed in Arlington County

Francisco Fernandez Diaz, an immigrant from El Salvador, has lived in his makeshift home for nine years. Photo: Kendis Gibson/ABC7

It took one man to build, but multiple people and trucks to remove. Now an Arlington homeless camp is gone.

For more than five hours Monday, VDOT crews raised the homeless shelter using several bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

“So far ten trucks, 150 cubic yards,” says Bernard Roulston of VDOT.

But this was not your ordinary homeless shelter.

“It was maybe half a football or quarter football field,” says Elizabeth Lee of Alexandria. “It was pretty big.”

“It seems like it too a year or two to develop,” says Todd Martin. “Every day there would be something new, garbage or branches, wood vines. It was pretty remarkable.”

The shelter was nine years in the making and the work and home to one man, El Salvadoran immigrant Francisco Fernandez Diaz.

Speaking through a translator, Diaz tells ABC7 he spent one year building a fence, another year collecting items and one more year building his home.

Using tree limbs, branches, ropes and clothing, he built a fortress that VDOT officials say measured 150 feet by 150 feet. Inside, he created different rooms, including a makeshift kitchen, bedroom, and living room. It’s a real step up, he says, from what this piece of park land previously looked like.

After several complaints from passersby, fearing it could be a haven for crime, VDOT crew came through, much to dismay of some who marveled at its construction.

“I figured if someone’s going to put in that much work building something so intricate, they’re not going to bother me,” says Lee. “They’re not predatory, really.”

County officials have tried getting Diaz into a homeless shelter, but he says he prefers staying on the streets.