Tunnel Vision: An Invitation

Few people looking at this drain area behind the Virgin Hotel would realize that a number of people have set up housekeeping in that dark tunnel seen in the distance.
Photo by Diane Taylor

I was intrigued, but definitely scared. I had been invited to walk through one of the Las Vegas tunnels that housed homeless, often addicted Las Vegans.

Several weeks earlier I had read, reviewed and enjoyed a book, Dark Days, Bright Nights: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains.“ I figured someone had seen the review and invited me.

Before answering the invitation, I had two outings with other ladies “of certain age”. I expected none of them would have accepted such an invitation and was rather startled with my friend Candy said, “I’d go.” And then another friend agreed to meet me for dinner on Saturday night “to hear what happened after your tour of the tunnels.”

Oh my. I called the man who had sent me the invitation. Seems as though he lives on the East Coast and is a PR type “who was just helping out Dave” (Dave Merlon, CEO of CrossRoads of Southern Nevada, the drug and alcohol addiction treatment center hosting the walk.) The PR guy also said, “Did you see the article in the Sun about CrossRoads?” No I hadn’t. The PR guy sent me the article — a LONG article about a number of individuals who had apparently accompanied the writer when he had been invited on a tunnel walk. The article had appeared the previous Sunday.

CrossRoads of Southern Nevada staff members make regular trips to Las Vegas tunnels looking to help. Notice the large mattress at the left of the picture.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Normally, I am not interested in stories that have been covered by the local papers, but at that point I had told too many people about the invitation and felt obligated to go ahead. I told the PR guy I would show up for Saturday’s tour.

I had been cautioned, incidentally, that if I accepted the invitation I should wear boots because the tunnels typically are wet and perhaps muddy and…..I had no boots. So I made a point to visit the nearest Bass Pro Shop and buy a pair. I was told if I signed up for a credit card while there I would get $25 off the $65 boots. I signed.

So come Saturday, I turned on my GPS and started for CrossRoads of Southern Nevada, the starting point for the tour. I was on a highway when I noticed the GPS lady was no longer talking to me. Soon I could see the Silverton casino so I knew I was not heading to CrossRoads of Southern Nevada. I pulled off the highway, found a parking lot and examined the GPS. Yep, the connection with my car electrical outlet had been lost. When it was fixed, the lady told me basically to turn around, get back on the highway, and retrace my steps.

Crossroads staff members who participated in the December 5 tunnel walk, from left, Elizabeth Smith, Dave Marlon and John Seeland.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Even with misdirection, I made it to CrossRoads of Southern Nevada at 10 a.m. I was met there by a group of three people from CrossRoads of Southern Nevada and one local photographer telling us he was taking pictures for the Associated Press. I was to ask for Dave Marlon. Dave was there and clearly in charge (wearing a great sweater). Dave welcomed me and frankly, took a few looks and then started to talk about a “verbal waiver” vs. a written one. I had to know what I was getting into, he said, if I walked in a tunnel.

Then he started. I knew about the water and mud and feces and needles, but when he mentioned that I might fall down…in the dark…in all that stuff, I decided maybe the tunnel wasn’t for me. However, Dave said I could follow them to the tunnel and maybe take some photos. I agreed, then I added, “Can I go in a little?” “Yes, it’s up to you,” said Dave. “We’ll be with you all the way.” Dave did not, incidentally, address his verbal waiver to the much younger photographer.

So I followed Dave and his staff to a wash immediately behind the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (now the Virgin Hotel Las Vegas). After parking behind the hotel, to get the tunnel, we had to walk down a muddy hill “Please take my arm,” several folks asked. “I’ll be fine,” I said. (After all,I had those new boots with big cleats.) I walked through the mud and water and into the tunnel where we saw two encampments.

Dave Marlon is talking with one of the tunnel residents. Dave offers a burrito, an OD kit, a business card and the opportunity, perhaps, for the tunnel resident, to turn his life around.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Dave carried a bunch of small narcon nasal spray “OD Kits” which he offered as well as burritos and business cards. He explained to the one man I saw, that if that person ever wanted leave the tunnel, he could call Dave (most of the homeless have cellphones, Dave had explained) and Dave would come get the man and take him to CrossRoads of Southern Nevada where he could enter a detox program and perhaps turn his life around. Dave and the other staffers had flashlights because the tunnel was pitch black. I decided I had gone far enough and bid my farewell. A gal named Liz ( Elizabeth Smith, RN Director of Nursing at CrossRoads of Southern Nevada) came out with me and let me ask all the questions I wanted to ask. She couldn’t have been nicer.

Following my Saturday visit, I got curious. One of the things Dave said was that with all the tunnel tours he has been a part of, in the last year only four tunnel residents have come to CrossRoads for help. Yet CrossRoads has 181 beds and just 30 vacancies. Where do most of CrossRoads of Southern Nevada clients come from? Hospitals and the justice system, he said.

Dave Marlon, CEO of CrossRoads.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Tours provide opportunity for publicity and for extending the outreach of organizations like CrossRoads of Southern Nevada.

O.K. The invitation worked, even on someone the age of a grandma. (Incidentally, during Dave’s verbal waiver, he also said that belligerent addicts in a tunnel might even take a swing at a grandma. That was not encouraging.)

I am grateful for the great treatment I received last Saturday. I am in awe of people who devote their lives to helping others turn their lives around. It can’t be easy, even for formerly addicted individuals who find their way onto staffs such as CrossRoads of Southern Nevada. I learned a lot (Per Dave: CrossRoads of Southern Nevada has a dedicated staff and a 50% success rate), and I did get some pictures. Furthermore, if it ever snows in Las Vegas, I am ready with some gorgeous new boots.


10 responses on “Tunnel Vision: An Invitation

  1. Stories like these always make me wish I was rich enough to help rid the world of poverty, homelessness and diseases like addiction; only in my dreams.

  2. Thank you for sharing your tunnel experience. I’m not sure I would have taken one step into the tunnel. Is 50% recovery rate considered a standard?

  3. Another great story Diane. I am so sorry for those people in the tunnels and help is there for them but they have to want it. Hopefully some day they will wake up and go see your friend Dave and that 50% will become 75% and then 100%!!! We can only hope though. Again, great story!

  4. It would be nice to talk about the population in there and why they don’t want help, but my guess is they have a variety of issues. How many people are in the tunnels? How about kids? More females than guys? Is there any Covid screening done?

  5. Thank you for coming brave Diane Taylor. Not only did you venture through the mud and water to get into the tunnel, but you walked into the darkness to meet some of the homeless residing in the tunnels. These are human beings who deserve our compassion and assistance. I hope to see your kind self again, Dave Marlon.

  6. I just drove past the tunnel entrance near Virgin Hotels and thought of you and the ones who don’t make it out.

  7. There was so much garbage and trash by the entrance. Who cleaned it up in your picture?

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