Article 43


Thursday, March 04, 2021

Mole People

image: mole people

Inside the lawless tunnel network below the Las Vegas strip where thousands of homeless people live in fear of being washed away

By Sophia Ankel , Jacob Kepler , and Simon Schtz ,
September 11, 2019

Behind the glowing skyline of Las Vegas, thousands of people are living out the “American Dream”. Day in and day out, visitors drink, party and gamble in countless casinos but most of them are totally unaware of the parallel world running just underneath their feet.

More than 1,000 homeless people have found refuge in the dark sewage tunnels underneath the megacity. They are people whose “American Dream” unfortunately was never fulfilled, and instead, only became a nightmare. BILD was allowed to step into their world.

The ‘Mole People’ live in individual concrete pits that are meant to drain rainwater away from the city

Under Las Vegas, there are thousands of concrete pits. They are there to drain rainwater away after it storms. But when it doesn’t rain, the tunnels remain dry and become a place for the self-described “Mole People” to live in.

However, when it does rain, a flash flood sweeps along the homeless people’s camps, taking along all their belongings with it.

A woman who calls herself the “Apostolic Lady” explains where to find one of the entrances to the tunnel system. She tells us she is from San Diego, but she is difficult to understand. She is absent and in her own world. Nevertheless, her directions help us find the underground world of Las Vegas.

The underground tunnels are not surveilled, leading to an abundance of crime

Not far from one of the many casinos along the famous Las Vegas Strip, Angell, 54, sits at one of the entrances to the tunnel. She’s from Texas and has lived in the tunnels for five years. The number of people taking refuge in this particular section varies ח not all are here permanently, she says, but sometimes it can be up to 50 men and women.

Angell stresses that she decided to live there on her own will, but that she wants people to know one important rule: “Don’t die in my tunnel,” she says. The 54-year-old also claims that this is the third most dangerous place in the country: “There are no cameras here and I’ve even heard of murders.

“It’s hard to shake me, but the worst thing I saw down here was an artist who lived down here getting his fingers cut off by another homeless person.”

But life in the tunnels used to be “more beautiful”, according to Angell. “Today, the police are just chasing us from one place to another.”

Louis Lacey, director of crisis teams at “Help Of Southern Nevada”, explains the reason for this. He tells BILD: “The measures by police are a direct consequence of the security concerns of people living in the immediate neighborhood.

“When check-ups take place, the homeless are usually forced to leave the area immediately.”

The equipment that has been brought into the tunnels, like chairs, tables, plastic boxes, and mattresses, is also very costly to remove.

When asked about what she misses the most in the tunnels, Angell laughs: “A toilet...and a shower. The last time I took a shower, I cried.”

Residents try to make their individual tunnel sections as comfortable as possible

In the tunnel next to her lives Tommy, 55, and his wife Shay. The couple has tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible. A piece of cardboard in front of their section of a tunnel has “Aloha” written on it and the walls are adorned with Hawaiian prayers pieces of home.

Their furniture includes a mattress, a few boxes, and cartons. There is a small heater on which they boil water ח they call it their “kitchen”. Two old carpets lie on the floor.

“It’s a damn difficult situation but we make the best of it,” explains Tommy, who became homeless after becoming addicted to drugs and gambling. He is still doing crystal meth.

It’s dark everywhere, and the only light comes from flashlights ח if they can even afford batteries.

“You can’t tell whether it’s day or night,” says the 53-year-old Shay. “Sometimes, when our clock says six o’clock, you don’t know whether it’s six o’clock in the morning or in the evening. If some light comes in at the end of the tunnel, we know: It’s daytime.”

Not knowing whether its day or night is probably the only similarity people have here to those gambling away in the sparkly casinos in the city.

Behind Shay, some cuddly toys are carefully arranged. Tommy looks over at them and says: “Shay adopts them. She finds them at the dump. When she sees them there, she thinks they’re scared, dirty and alone and that they need a family. Then Shay takes them with her, washes them and talks to them.” Tommy laughs: “She’s a bit of a softie,”

The inside of the tunnels is always at risk of being flooded out during a storm

But what Tommy and Shay call their home can be washed away and destroyed by water at any minute. When it rains heavily outside, the underground shafts collect the water and push it out of the city.

“This has happened to us 10 times already,” the couple says. “When the water comes, everything is washed away then we have to start all over again.”

Lacey explains that storms are life-threatening for the “Mole People”. “When it rains, the people in the tunnels only have a few minutes until the tide washes away their homes,” he says.

“There are many objects in the tunnels that can hit you, which could also potentially lead to drowning.”

Fitting into the community is not always easy

Rusty, 54, has lived with her husband and two dogs for five years in the Las Vegas tunnels. “I used to have an apartment, and cats and dogs. I lived on welfare ח but my husband couldn’t live with me anymore because of his past. No landlord accepted him anymore. We have been married for 12 years. I wanted to be with him so I went into the tunnels with him,” she says

Next to their tent is an old whirlpool: “We bathed in it today,” Rusty says. Their “fridge” is an old cooler box. Sometimes they buy ice cream from the supermarket but the box doesn’t really manage to keep its contents very cold.

The Las Vegas heat is sometimes difficult to bear. There is very little water, if any at all, and only a few days ago Rusty had heat stroke.

Her used laundry lies in small buckets. A tub that she now uses for washing her clothes was once her “shower” ח before they found the whirlpool. “In the beginning, I liked it here, but not anymore. The others don’t really accept me as one of them.”

She starts to cry: “They poisoned my dog he almost died.”

“We don’t want to be forgotten”: Most people feel exiled from society

Anthony, who does not want to be fully identified, was in prison until recently. He came to the tunnels after he lost his job and his son died. The 43-year-old reveals that one of his friends recently died after taking a “hot shot”, which is a mixture of drugs often spiked with poison.

How the death of this homeless man was dealt with was symbolic of their entire situation: “He was simply taken away - a homeless death. As if we are a piece of s---.  We then had to make sure his family found out, which wasn’t easy,” Anthony says.

He continues: “This is how society treats us: They want us to be invisible but we are here, we want to be seen. Our story must be heard.” ACCORDING TO MARKETWATCH, millions of Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street.

It’s the little things that really make a difference: “When someone asks us how we are or remembers us when they see us again ח that can actually save someone’s day,” he says passionately.

But despite the one-off friendliness, Anthony still doesn’t feel helped: “They treat us as if we are an epidemic.”

Lacey, however, does see some progress: “We are making progress in finding realistic solutions for the homeless. But we need more housing in different parts of the city and more affordable housing too.”

Anthony doesn’t feel the progress yet. But he does have an important message: “We don’t want to be forgotten: There’s one thing that’s worse than killing someone and that’s forgetting someone. If you forget someone, it is as if that person never existed. And that is our story - we are the forgotten.”


Posted by Elvis on 03/04/21 •
Section Dying America
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