Discovering the drains

“I didn’t know he was homeless because he took me to this apartment. Well, it was a motel room, but when you’re homeless that’s an apartment to you. Then one day he didn’t pay and he said, ‘I stay at this other place, too, and you can meet my friends.’ I’m thinking, Right on. I got a guy that’s got his own place. I can meet his friends and maybe get back on my feet—and he takes me to this ditch. I’m like, Whoa. I started getting scared because of my history of being raped. I started crying. We’re near the Rio and we walk down this embankment, and I started freaking out and I said, ‘You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘No. I forgot my rope and shovel.’ He’s drunk and laughing. I said, ‘It’s not funny, dude.’ He goes, ‘Let me get my key out,’ and he pulls out a flashlight. He said, ‘I know this looks weird, but you’ll meet some good people and it’s safe and it’s better than being on the streets.’”

—Melinda, in the drains from 2009 to 2011

Special Collections

I found a home for my Beneath the Neon and My Week at the Blue Angel notes and memorabilia: Special Collections at UNLV’s Lied Library. They plan to sort through the boxes—handwritten notes, taped interviews, email correspondence with editors, edited drafts, etc.—and eventually make the contents available to the public. (If you ever want to hear me splashing through a storm drain, babbling to myself in a nervous stutter, you know where to go.)

The best part of the experience was I got to spend some time with two warm and talented longtime Las Vegans, Aaron Mayes and Su Kim Chung. Thanks, Aaron and Su Kim!

Shine a Light follow-up

I’m excited to announce that my Shine a Light community project, which was founded in 2009 to help the people who live in the underground flood channels of Vegas, will be folded into Freedom House’s programming. This will allow Shine a Light to more directly provide housing, counseling and other services to the people in the drains. I will remain involved in the program as much as possible from San Salvador, but Paul Vautrinot, who once lived in the tunnels, will be the point person. 
More details on the collaboration will be available in the days to come. In the meantime, please like Freedom House Sober Living’s Facebook page, visit its website ( and consider donating to it. Thanks!

Shine a Light

Big things are brewing with my community project Shine a Light. Sometimes you have to let go (a little) of the things you love for them to reach their full potential. More on this soon.

Out of the dark

“I left the tunnel because I had breast cancer. I had to stay clean. I wanted to be spick and span. I’m going to see all these doctors and I had to be able to shower, wear proper clothing and have some decency, because I was not a homeless bum. I was a PhD living down in a freakin’ tunnel.” Ande, in the drains from 2008 to ’15

Going-away present

Yesterday in the tunnels, one of the residents, Steve, gave me a going-away present: a compass. He said he hoped it would come in handy in Central America. #touched

Sunday Assembly follow-up

I was honored to share the stage at the Sunday Assembly with Paul Vautrinot. We had a blast and met some really interesting people—thanks to everyone who came out!—then headed into the tunnels to check on some folks down there. I’m hoping Paul (and others) will help keep Shine a Light going while I’m in Central America. With his experience, knowledge and charisma, I’m confident he could positively impact hundreds of lives in the drains. No pressure, Paul!