Las Vegas is the epic adult playground of gambling so profound it is the ultimate gaming experience for any gambler. The Vegas world is your oyster filled with over 200,000 combined slot machines, over 7.5 million visitors per year, hot night clubs, 5 star hotels, premiere restaurants and showcasing top entertainers. It is all about arriving in Sin City with dreams of winning big, but in reality most go home with empty pockets, but the memories and good times are worth its weight in gold.
As thousands of tourists walk up and down the Strip every day, what’s underneath their feet is a whole different world. There is no rumble felt on the soles of your feet or any telltale signs of a dark existence deep within miles upon miles of underground tunnels.
It was a project that began in the 1990’s to prevent massive flooding by building storm drainage tunnels. Over the next 25 years the plan was to construct 1,000 miles of tunnels. For hundreds of homeless people, the tunnels are place where they seek shelter and call “home”.
This community is normal American citizens that somehow couldn’t survive above ground leaving them a life of homelessness. There was a far more sinister story that made headlines in 2002 about Tom “T. J.” Weber who murdered his girlfriend and hid in the tunnels to avoid police. But for the most part these underground dwellers are people left destitute just trying to get through another day and to seek shelter. Once they had a job and a could afford a place to live with money in their bank accounts. Somewhere along the way they lost their job and couldn’t find work resulting in deplete bank accounts, foreclosures and nowhere to turn. Others went on a downward spiral turning to drugs or alcohol unable to cope with the harsh realities of life.
In the sweltering desert heat, the tunnels are more comfortable with temps as much as 15 degrees cooler than the sidewalks above. Unfortunately, that is where the comfort ends, well at least through the eyes of those who are not as underprivileged. If you don’t have a flashlight your world in the tunnels is in complete pitch black darkness and is where scorpions have made a home. The smell can be overwhelming in the damp tunnels with the stench of sewage.
For some dwellers a simple blanket and pillow is all they have for others it is more elaborate with a bed, table, chairs and even makeshift shower. As you travel through these dark pathways some spots require crouching down due to low ceilings and walls that are covered in graffiti. Communication between these residents is good particularly when there is reports of storms that can fill the tunnel with a rush of flood waters in a matter of minutes.
For many their lifestyle begins with sleeping during the day and hitting the outside world of the Strip by night. As a “credit-hustler” they earn the money they need to eat and if lucky enjoy such pleasures as going to see a movie. A credit hustler goes to casino to casino looking for credits players have left behind in the Slot machines for money and will also find money often on the ground.
Turning a Blind Eye?
The homeless are ignored in this area by police and in fact as one report suggests many were dropped off over the Nevada state line by Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital. As a result, Los Angeles gained over 1,500 homeless people that made a home on Skid Row. A problem that wasn’t resolved but instead a matter of shuffling the homeless from one location to another.
Is it a matter of out of sight out of mind? It is a case of turning a blind eye to the reality of what the poor face in the United States. Have we as a society turned our backs on the homeless not only in these tunnels but across America? Behind the sounds of clinking champagne glasses, excited screams of winning a Jackpot and the tables drawing a crowd of eager players lies a population of people living in darkness, scrounging for their next meal and trying to get back the self-confidence and pride they once had.