LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) — There is an underworld beneath the electricity of the Las Vegas Strip. A community of dwellers that lives underneath the Las Vegas Valley.
The non-profit Shadows of Hope donates food, basic necessities, as well as first aid to the underground community.
“I’ve been kind of down in the dumps myself a few times in the past. I understand what it’s like when the whole world treats you like crap and looks down on you,” says founder Robert Hoey. “These are given unconditionally. I understand that sometimes life deals you a bad hand, we all make a few bad decisions, things like that.”
The Regional Flood Control District estimates building close to 600 miles of storm channels. These tunnels underneath Las Vegas Blvd and I-15 are home to a population of local homeless that live mostly out of the public eye.
Andy has lived in the tunnels for a couple years.
“I’ve had bad days, I’ve had good days. As long as you are putting forth the effort and trying, there’s a community of people to help down here,” says Andy.
Andy says around 10 people live in his sections of the tunnelsincluding his two daughters. But countless others live throughout the storm drainage system.
“You have to ask permission to go through anybody’s tunnel because it is their private space. It’s like their home.”
Getting lost in the tunnels is simple. The complete darkness is eerie, a far-reaching maze that extending for miles. A flashlight is paramount, and the very brief interruptions of natural light show endless walls of graffiti art and abandoned homes.
But for Andy and his family, it is a safe haven from up above.
“The streets ain’t no place for anybody,” says Andy who adds he currently is suffering from live cancer, psoriasis, and Parkinson’s disease. “I’ve had enough We’re human. We don’t have an incurable disease called homelessness.”
But the storm channels become a death trap when it rains.
“A light to medium drizzle You’ve got 45 minutes to an hour to get the heck out of these tunnels,” says Andy.
Alex has lived in the tunnels for about a year, and almost drowned during one of the underground floods.
“Walking 50 feet, I’ve seen it go from ankle deep to waist deep. That gets scary because I’ve been trapped down there when it’s been that deep,” says Alex. “You don’t know how long you can hold on in the dark with the water.”
Alex says he was forced to hold onto the vent bars for 4 to 5 hours until the water levels dropped.
Dwellers like Andy and Alex say the tunnels are an honor to call home because you have to be invited in.
However, theylike mostare looking for a way out of homelessness.
“I was one paycheck for being homeless. The check never came,” says Andy. “All the snide comments and remarks that we hear from people. Come on, it’s like you don’t think we don’t know that already?”
But Hoey and his non-profit Shadows of Hope, wants to help those in their worst moments. To let them know although they may have lost their way, they are not forgotten.
“The whole point of being down here is actually you know understanding that he’s just like me, he’s just like us, he’s no different,” says Hoey.
Underneath Las Vegas is a world where art can hide within pitch blackness, home can be found when least expected, and gratitude can be felt in the unlikeliest of places.
And there are those still hoping for a way out of the darkness.