I first ran into a story on people living under Las Vegas in The Sun (UK) two years ago. The most recent edition of Newsweek also briefly discusses this situation as part of a larger article about Las Vegas and the impact Celine Dion has had on the city:
At the south end of the Strip, near the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, a hidden concrete path leads into a 500-mile warren of wet, trash-strewn drainage pipes that function as an underground shelter for hundreds of the city’s most downtrodden. Several have been laid off from the same well-paid, benefits-packed service jobs that give Vegas its rep as a working-class paradise. The pipes are one of the few places police and hotel security don’t bother to tread, and since the recession, they’ve become increasingly populated, according to Matthew O’Brien, author of a 2007 book about the tunnels, Beneath the Neon.
Life here is spare and dangerous. Aside from floods that can fill the space in minutes, there is ever-present crime. Jody Alger, 48, an unemployed casino waitress, guards her tunnel with a BB gun. Another camp has two makeshift barricades at its entrance; inside, its 32-year-old inhabitant huddles on an old bed with a flashlight strapped to his head. In a nearby tunnel, John Tondee sleeps on a sagging leather couch that he found in a Dumpster. His clothes are in a messy pile, and his entertainment is a guitar with a broken string, which he uses for playing country gospel. “I’m at the point of coming out of here,” he says. “I’ve had enough.” Tondee says he’s a former maintenance worker who lost his job a year ago and couldn’t afford to pay the $675 in rent. “I’ll do whatever it takes to survive,” he says. “I’ll go around and wash windows.” At night, he used to dress in drag and walk down the Strip. But someone came into the tunnel and stole his 16 wigs. Now he has only one head of fake black curls left.
These two paragraphs are meant to set up a comparison between the glitzy and popular Celine Dion shows at Caesar’s Palace and the desperate times some residents are facing.
But from what I can gather, people living underneath a city is not a limited phenomenon perhaps tied to difficult economic times. The space underneath cities can be easier to access than people might realize: this story about Paris suggests all sorts of people end up exploring this area (though many of them are on tours of the Paris Catacombs). And the 1995 book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, which I first read for my undergraduate Introduction to Sociology class, is a fascinating look at how a number of people have carved out a life in a space that most would avoid.