Everyone has heard of the marvels of Las Vegas at least once in their lives. If you are a casino enthusiast then you’ve probably heard all there is to know about Las Vegas luxury hotels and casinos as well the astonishing shows, and, last but not least, the negative aspects of the city such as drug abuse and prostitution. Yet, there is a very well kept secret in Vegas you probably haven’t really heard about:
Deep below the city streets, a subtropolis of sorts amasses. A people humbled by the forces of society and nature gather underneath the feet of the common citizens of Las Vegas. The peculiar thing is that these sewer people of Las Vegas are also common citizens; most of them have jobs, maybe odd jobs or even regular jobs such as mechanics and housekeepers. Despite having some sort of income, these people cannot find housing. The city of Las Vegas has a strong reputation for being extremely mean, cold, and non-solidary towards the homeless that live amongst them. This adds to the social strife that these people face day in and day out.
And then come the waters. This is the primary obstacle that dangerously imposes itself upon their lives. Even though the amount of rain that Leas Vegas gets is minimal, when the rain does come, the tunnel systems below the city constructed specifically to avoid flooding end up functioning perfectly. The flood waters do not stop for the people that have been forced to seek shelter in these tunnels. The water simply flows quickly and unforgivingly.
Take a moment to imagine what it must be like. You are sitting in your makeshift home, forced to live in the tunnels, and all of a sudden, without a single bit of warning, you hear a roaring sound and, two seconds later, a giant rush of water is washing away the few things that you own, the few people that you care about. Your life and your security along with the life and security of others are washed away in an instant.
This is a very harsh reality for the community of people that by no choice of their own are forced to seek shelter in these tunnels. Richard Ethridge and Cynthia Goodwin, a married couple that live in the tunnels, experienced this brutal event first hand last year. They barely made it out alive. “I almost lost her,” Richard told The Globe and Mail online periodical referring to his wife as they sat on a sheet of foam bedding with candles in broken glass jars lighting up their subterranean home. “She was in another tunnel holding on to her bike. The water was so strong it ripped the front tire off the bike.”
The face of Las Vegas has always been of the utmost expression of glamour and glitz, the city strewn with blinding neon lights and gaudy excess drawing millions of tourists, big-name celebrities, and massive conventions. The fact that Las Vegas hides behind its glamorous appearance the fourth-highest homelessness rate and the highest home foreclosure rate in the US is somewhat surprising. These people face the dangers of death constantly either by disease or by drowning. In fact at least one drowning death is reported every year from the flood waters in the tunnels.
In existence since the late 1980s, the tunnel system built to protect the city from flooding began to become the home of many homeless about 16 years ago in response partly to the city’s crackdown on the homeless population. The city passed an ordinance that made it illegal to give food to “the indigent” in public parks, among other inhumane things.
Despite the insurmountable odds against them, the homeless that live in the tunnels rebuild their makeshift homes every time and brave the diseases, the water, and even the scorpion stings that they are exposed to. These inhumane living conditions have become normal for the people that live down there. They have built alarm systems of tin cans that warn them of flood water. That gives them barely enough time to try to save what few things they can carry. The rest floats away.