Results for Category: Shine a Light

Quick Christmas follow-up

Spent a few hours in the underground flood channels on Christmas Day, giving out bottled water, clothes, gift cards, toiletries and other items, with the help of a former tunnel resident. The people we encountered were, as usual, polite and appreciative. Thanks to Ted at Lynn’s World consignment store, my sister Cathy, my friends David and Molly and my Facebook friend Karine Projean for their generous donations!

Christmas in the tunnels

I’m going to be in Vegas for the holidays and am planning a Christmas Day trip into the underground flood channels. Want to give out knit caps, socks, books, flashlights, AA and AAA batteries, blankets, canned goods, gift cards (Target, McDonald’s, Walmart), etc. If you’d like to contribute new or gently used items, please let me know.

Thanks and happy holidays!

Thanks, Rich!

For two and a half years, Rich Penksa, a case manager and director of homeless services at HELP of Southern Nevada, has been an integral part of the Shine a Light community project. He braved the underground flood channels, offering housing, medical attention, mental-health care and other services to the people he encountered. He case-managed clients who used to live in the tunnels. And for the last year and a half or so, he oversaw the program that housed or helped (IDs, bus passes, etc.) hundreds of tunnel dwellers and former tunnel dwellers.
On several occasions, I saw Rich encounter someone in the drains, help them pack their stuff and then drive them directly to a group home or apartment—their lives changed in an instant. (It’s one of the most heroic things I’ve seen in person.) Many of these people are now clean, healthy, reunited with family and working or looking for work.
Rich’s last day at HELP was Sept. 15. (I won’t go into the details of his departure.) And while he’s no longer with the charity organization, and is unsure of what he’s going to do next, the work he did aboveground and underground will reverberate for years to come.
Thanks, Rich!

Books and a guitar

Following the July floods, having lost everything but the clothes on their back, a few folks from a drain under the south Strip got in HELP of Southern Nevada’s program. One of them, Mike (mid-50s, chronically homeless, drug-addicted), is now clean and living in a one-bedroom apartment near UNLV. I dropped by yesterday and was impressed: a comfortable couch, static-free TV, and full-size bed (which beats the hell out of the chaise lounge he slept on in the tunnel for several months). The only things he really needs, he said, are some readable nonfiction or thriller titles and an acoustic guitar. (He’s a musician who used to play on the pedestrian overpasses for tips; no crazy costume necessary.)

If you have books you can spare or a guitar you can donate or that I can buy for cheap, and you can meet me downtown in the next few days, let me know. Thanks.

A ‘Human’ touch

A quick thanks to the folks at “Human Experience,” the Monday night poetry, art and music event at the Beat coffee shop. In May and June, they held a donation drive for Shine a Light and collected a box full of socks, batteries, flashlights, canned goods and other items. I’ll be giving out the items to people in the tunnels over the next few months.

For more info on “Human Experience,” visit and click on the “Monday” tab.

Fundraising project

If you’re interested in helping the people who live in the underground flood channels of Las Vegas, here’s an opportunity to do it. The NPR show “State of the Re:Union” visits Vegas in its second season, which kicks off in the next month or two, and is raising money for my community project Shine a Light.

For more information on Shine a Light, “State of the Re:Union” and the fundraising project, visit

Merry Christmas, Rick!

I met Rick about five years ago, on the bank of a dry wash that snakes behind the Budget Suites on Tropicana Avenue near Wynn Road, an underground flood channel yawning in the distance. Typing on my laptop, I was gathering follow-up notes for Beneath the Neon. Rick, scaling a cinderblock wall, dropped down next to me atop the bank. Startled, I turned toward him. He was wearing a baseball cap turned backward, a T-shirt, faded jeans and dirty sneakers (his standard street attire). His leathered face was framed by a scraggly beard and he was thin and muscular. I was convinced he was going to try to snatch my laptop.

Instead, Rick (aka “Iron”) flashed a disarming smile, sat down next to me and asked what I was working on. I explained that I was a journalist researching a book about the tunnels and was taking follow-up notes on this channel, which I’d previously explored. He told me he’d been on the streets for about four years and was living in the nearby tunnel.

Over the next several years, as I returned to the area to check on people I knew in the tunnels, show members of the media the drains and do outreach with HELP of Southern Nevada, I got to know Rick. He was from Oklahoma, had worked in construction as a glazier and had a beautiful daughter. He moved to Las Vegas to work for a pedicab company, which eventually went under. A drug addiction led him to the streets.

For two years, Rich Penksa, Louis Lacey, Macheo Willis and others at HELP of Southern Nevada visited the tunnels and offered housing and other services to Rick—one of the nicest guys on the streets. He declined, explaining that he “wasn’t ready.” But a few weeks ago, he made his way down to HELP’s Flamingo Road office and is now housed in an apartment in central Vegas.

In a text message this morning, Rick marveled at the fact that he won’t be spending Christmas in the tunnels and, half-jokingly, wondered if he’d miss them. I’m hoping he won’t—and that this will be one of many more he’ll spend housed and clean and safe and warm.

Merry Christmas, Rick! And a happy new year!

Christmas in the tunnels: Part III

The gift-giving in the tunnels went well. On Christmas Eve day, Rich from HELP of Southern Nevada and I went into three drains and ran into about 15 people. They seemed in good spirits and appreciative of the bags we handed out, which contained blankets, jackets, sweaters, knit caps, bottled water, disposable razors and other items. Later that day, Rick, who lives in a tunnel in south central Vegas, was wearing one of the sweaters, so I know some of the stuff was put to use.

Thanks to everyone who contributed: Andy, Kristyne, Sam, Mark and Tia. Special thanks to Tia’s mom Cyndi, aunt Penny and cousin Alex, who supplied the bags and many of the goods – some of them handmade.