By Dawn Ellis – Las Vegas
Imagine living within the same dingy tunnel walls that shield one of the most illuminated cities from flash floods. Imagine living beneath these bright city lights of the Las Vegas Strip, while the people above frivolously spend millions of dollars a year on partying and entertainment. Imagine this being the harsh reality of more than 1,000 people of the Southern Nevada population.
According to the 2015 Census, it is estimated that there are 34,397 homeless people in Southern Nevada. Many of these people live underneath the opulence of the Las Vegas Strip. These people only dream of having a place to call “home”. Although these tunnel dwellers are exposed to debris, flash floods, and health risks, this makeshift space is the only place they can call their own.
The tunnel life is far from comfortable and is a living situation that is difficult for homeless men and women to transition from. With little or no support from family and friends, these inhabitants are stuck within these tunnel walls. And with even less support from Southern Nevada, these indigenous people try to be optimistic.
Matthew O’Brien, a community leader from the Shine a Light Foundation first shed light on this problem in 2012 when he worked with HELP of Southern Nevada to assist the homeless. Shine a Light is a community project that helps people living in these underground flood channels obtain water, food, clothes, and other necessities. The mission of this organization is still alive today in Southern Nevada.
O’Brien was compelled to document his journey into an underground dungeon which housed thousands of people. He interviewed some of the individuals who lost their way and somehow found themselves under the strip. Among these dwellers was a middle-aged man name John from Orlando. John said, “One day, I went home and told my wife and kids, ‘It’s all yours. See ya! I’m taking this bag, and I’m going to Vegas.’” He moved to Las Vegas because it was a destination city and quickly learned that the Vegas lifestyle is anything but a permanent vacation. During his first year, he worked on the docks at Mandalay Bay, but in 2012 he was working only occasionally, performing odd jobs. Surprisingly, there is still an overabundance of similar stories among the people who live in these underground holes today.
In America, societies are reminded that the homeless are people too. In almost all American societies, the homeless are treated as less than people, with some communities trying to refuse the right of the homeless to sleep, to go to the bathroom or even receive adequate health care. America has dehumanized the homeless by treating them as outcasts. As the poverty level increases, more organizations in Southern Nevada are working to make more resources available to the homeless.
If you or anyone you know is in need of resources, please visit the Homeless Shelter Directory to locate a list of assistance programs, public housing, shelters, mental health and behavioral counseling, and other needs available to the less fortunate in the Southern Nevada area.