Homeless Under Las Vegas: Ways You Can Help

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the flood channels under the streets of Las Vegas exists a troubling world: homeless and unemployed people live in elaborate shelters, struggling to survive, and only yards away from the excess and extravagance of The Strip.

Anderson Cooper 360 reported their story and interviewed Matthew O'Brien, author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. One of the most intriguing stories is of 43-year-old Steve Dommer, who's been living in the channels for two years.

Dommer, a self-described Las Vegas native, says he ended up underground due to drugs--speed and heroin to be exact. He says drug use not only caused him to lose his construction job but also created what he describes as a "legal situation." Dommer says he's been sober since January.

Two years ago, Dommer created a home about a half-mile from the entrance of a flood channel where some daylight enters through a sealed grate overhead near the Strip. He has a living room, bedroom, kitchen and workshop encompassing about 400-square feet. Everything is elevated inches off of the floor with wooden pallets or milk crates because water from construction hoses above covers the ground. He even painted some of his living area to hide the black soot that covers the walls and ceilings as a result of a fire caused by a one-time tunnel neighbor.

Luckily, the CNN report is more than just a sad story. O'Brien has created the charitable organization Shine A Light, aimed at providing food, blankets and other resources to the people living underneath Las Vegas, along with aid from HELP of Southern Nevada.

A few other ways that ordinary Americans can help:

  • Learn how one can most effectively advocate for the homeless. Connecting with other advocates, lobbying elected officials and inspiring media attention can help turn a story into a public call to action.
  • The National Coalition For The Homeless is planning a nationwide coat drive campaign called The Big Warm Up. As the winter months approach, it becomes ever more important that the homeless have adequate clothing.
  • Las Vegas residents are also being encouraged to volunteer their time or become a mentor to young people who face homelessness.

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