Saturday, November 13, 2010

The tunnel people of Las Vegas

The tunnel people of Las Vegas: How 1,000 live in flooded labyrinth under Sin City's shimmering strip
Daily Mail Reporter
4th November 2010

Deep beneath Vegas’s glittering lights lies a sinister labyrinth inhabited by poisonous spiders and a man nicknamed The Troll who wields an iron bar.

But astonishingly, the 200 miles of flood tunnels are also home to 1,000 people who eke out a living in the strip’s dark underbelly.

Some, like Steven and his girlfriend Kathryn, have furnished their home with considerable care - their 400sq ft 'bungalow' boasts a double bed, a wardrobe and even a bookshelf.

They have been there for five years, fashioning a shower out of a water cooler, hanging paintings on the walls and collating a library from abandoned books.

Their possessions, however, are carefully placed in plastic crates to stop them getting soaked by the noxious water pooling on the floor.

'Our bed came from a skip oustide an apartment complex,' Steven explains. 'It's mainly stuff people dump that we pick up. One man's junk is another man's gold.

‘We get the stuff late at night so people don't see us because it's kind of embarrassing.’

Steven was forced into the tunnels three years ago after his heroin addiction led to him losing his job.

He says he is now clean and the pair survive by ‘credit hustling’ in the casinos, donning second-hand clothes to check the slot machines for chips accidently left behind.

Astonishingly, Steven claims he once found $997 (£609) on one machine.

Further into the maze are Amy and Junior who married in the Shalimar Chapel – one of Vegas’s most popular venues - before returning to the tunnels for their honeymoon.

They lost their home when they became addicted to drugs after the death of their son Brady at four months old.

‘I heard Las Vegas was a good place for jobs,’ Amy said. ‘But it was tough and we started living under the staircase outside the MGM casino.

‘Then we met a guy who lived in the tunnels. We’ve been down here ever since.’

Matthew O’Brien, a reporter who stumbled across the tunnel people when he was researching a murder case, has set up The Shine A Light foundation to help.

‘These are normal people of all ages who’ve lost their way, generally after a traumatic event,’ he said.

‘Many are war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

‘It’s not known how many children are living there, as they’re kept out of sight, but I’ve seen evidence of them – toys and teddy bears.’

O’Brien has published a book on the tunnel people called Beneath The Neon.

These evocative images which show the community's astonishing way of life were taken by Austin Hargrave, a British photographer now based in the U.S.

They show how the destitute and hopeless have constructed a community beneath the city and have even dedicated one section of tunnels to an art gallery filled with intricate graffiti.

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