Flashing neon signs, enchanting shows, luxury casinos and millions rotating in them – Las Vegas usually evokes such associations. But this city has another side, which is not known to everyone. One has only to go down into the underground storm tunnels, built in 1980 to protect the city from floods, to find out what kind of a dazzling Las Vegas has from the inside.
The entrance to the drainage tunnels is located under a high-speed highway, along which multi-storey casino buildings and brightly burning lanterns are lined up. In this underground world, sharing their home with rats and struggling with hopeless poverty, hundreds of homeless people live, who are called “mole people”. Despite the common name, “mole people” are different. Some residents of the tunnels go to work, but their salaries are not enough to rent a house, pay for utilities and buy food.
Many of these people left their homes in 2012, when the cost of rent increased. Among the homeless who had to move into the tunnel, 60-year–old John Aitcheson – he works in a supermarket, but he barely has enough money to eat. Many local residents are those who have come to such an existence because of gambling addiction. For example, the 55-year-old Nattrow “lets down” to “one-armed bandits” all his social assistance, although he claims that he occasionally receives incredibly huge winnings.
But there are also homeless people who are not averse to profit at the expense of rich players: when they get drunk, vagrants pick up tokens from them, and then cash out in vending machines. Drug addicts live in three separate tunnels. Moreover, the settlements are divided according to what kind of drug their residents take. The tunnels of Las Vegas, stretching for tens of kilometers, are a creepy place. It is completely dark here, only bright lanterns standing along the road give an opportunity to see at least something.
Being in unsanitary conditions, all of the homeless living in the dungeon risk getting sick with something dangerous, dying from spider venom or drowning in a flood. Although rains in the Nevada desert, in which Las Vegas is located, take place approximately 21 times a year, in the event of a severe thunderstorm, the tunnels fill up with water incredibly quickly. So, in 2016 there was a sharp flood that took the lives of three local residents. Therefore, as soon as it starts to rain, the “mole people” take all the most valuable things and run away.
However, many vagrants believe that being homeless in Las Vegas and living in these tunnels is much better than being homeless anywhere else in America. I must say that the local homeless are extremely rare. There are a lot of strollers for shopping, which are in every supermarket, and they are filled with packs of pasta, cans of vegetables, bread, sausages in vacuum packs. All these products are collected by subway residents from garbage cans standing in the city.
Some homeless people have refrigerators to protect food from rats wandering through the tunnels. Many local residents are trying to make their shelter more comfortable. Ricky, who has been living here for 20 years, built a curtain from a tablecloth that was once in the casino. Stephen and Catherine have placed a large bed and a shelf for books. Homeless people carry water to their homes in buckets, but due to the lack of toilets, hygiene here is at an extremely low level. The dungeon is another reality of the luxurious and dazzling Las Vegas.
Only echoes of the turbulent life going on upstairs reach the “mole people”. Homeless people have long come to terms with such a life, worrying only that strong streams of water do not drive them out of the tunnels and this happens almost every year, and they have to re-settle in habitable places. The secrets of the underside of the dazzling city of sins were told to the whole world by journalist Matt Obrain, who wrote the book “Under Neon. Life and death in the tunnels of Las Vegas.”
Matt says, “The Las Vegas authorities don’t need homeless people. Rich people go to this city to get away from their problems and have fun. And these people want nothing here to serve as a reminder of their problems. Local authorities also believe that they feel safer when homeless people are in tunnels, and not on city streets. After all, tourists do not see the poverty of tunnels, do not get distracted from slot machines.”
After Matt Obrain’s book was published, the city’s social services began to bring food to the vagrants from time to time. They even put 15 people in a shelter, and, as before, they just “close their eyes” to others. Well, the story of the city under the city is another confirmation that a rotten core can hide behind a bright, beautiful shell. And this statement is true for absolutely everything and everyone on this planet.