Homeless on the streets of Las Vegas


Homeless on the streets of Las Vegas

Homeless on the streets of Las Vegas

 

The homeless population in Las Vegas is abysmal, with thousands and thousands of individuals living on the streets. Living in doorways, asking for change, and sleeping under hollow staircases stained with the scent of urine while others walk over top of them; most passersby unaware that people are living there.

I often perform private acts of contrition to help those who are less fortunate. Rather than cutting a check to Greenpeace or to an organization that feeds starving African children I prefer to get my proverbial hands dirty, and to go directly to the front lines and confront problems face to face. On Friday Nov. 8, my plan was simple; find a person who appears if they need help and then help them.

One does not have to struggle to find those in need, and after five minutes of walking down the Las Vegas strip I met Dennis. He was sitting near an escalator, panhandling. I stopped and put $5 in his collection cup, to which he looked down in surprise. I asked him if he would be interested in talking to me, and he said, “Hell ya man. I been sitting here for four hours and only made 85 cents.”  I asked if it would be alright if I sat down with him, and being a gentleman Dennis tried to brush away some of the dirt on the ground.

Charles Bukowski once said, “You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.” While remembering the Barfly’s immortal words I went down to the most miserable place I know; the Las Vegas strip. While many find themselves overtaken by the lights and glitz I find an entirely different experience of deception, and degeneration drenched in cheap alcohol and broken smiles. ”Come to Las Vegas and find what you are looking for.” ”What happens here, stays here.” The mantra is true, but what is not revealed is the pain and forgotten individuals who are passed by, faceless and nameless, by the millions who wander the streets, faces cocked upward, gazing upon the fantastic glistening idols of greed and money. I had hoped to come across an unfortunate soul, down on their luck, so that I might have an opportunity to help them. The plan was simple; find a person who appears if they need help and then help them. There would be no judgment, no asking, “Why don’t you work harder? Don’t you know being homeless is your own fault?”

There were no illusions on my part that I could change the life of those I may encounter. My goal is to offer relief to suffering, even if only for a moment.

 

Asking for permission to sit.

Asking for permission to sit.

I sat on the sidewalk with Dennis and we began to chat.  Dennis is 39, and disabled.  He walks with a cane, and has had a fractured hip for several years and the story he told me broke my heart.  He had been living on the street for twenty-two months, alone.  He was married until four months ago when his wife died on the sidewalk next to him from a heart attack.  He did not mention her age.  The attack came on suddenly.  The two were pan handling together, when she grabbed her chest in intense pain.  She clutched herself while rolling around on the sidewalk, dying.  Not a single person stopped to help them.  Dennis does not move well due to his hip, but he attempted to do whatever he could.  He stood up, screaming, pleading for help.  Crying for a doctor, but no one was to be found and his wife Anne died right there on the cold ground.  Paramedics arrived ten minutes later, but it was no use.  She was gone.

Dennis told me how, a couple of weeks later, drunken tourists had stolen his cane after he fell asleep one night from the mental exhaustion of losing his beloved.  They poked him with his own cane to wake him up, taunting him, asking him if he ‘wanted his stick back.’  They poked him like an animal, while Dennis begged for the return of his property.  The tourists said no, and walked away with it before turning around and launching the cane at him like a javelin, striking him in the face where he sat bleeding for two hours before a police officer walking the beat found him and helped him to receive medical care for his wound.

He went on to tell me more of his humiliation, as he had been assaulted multiple times.  Sometimes by those living on the street, but more often by those who were just passing by.  Throwing handfuls of change at him while screaming, “GET A JOB!” which is counter intuitive, or being the victim of a cruel joke.  Teens had once purchased fast food, offered it to him, and when he reached to accept the meal the teens dropped the food in front of him and then stepped on it while cackling with glee.  On several occasions he had a variety of liquids thrown at him including water and beer, sometimes while still in the bottle.  Dennis did not seek to bother anyone.  He was merely attempting to survive the only way he knew how.

While this story was happening, a group of gawkers began to assemble around me.  I could hear their whispers, “What is he doing down there?”, “Oh my god.  Why is he sitting with that guy?”  Another casually remarked, “The downfall of Western society.”  Others scoffed, or looked down in judgment.  Not a single person stopped to speak to me, there was no query.  Just judgment.  Perhaps some believed I too was homeless.  Little did they know.  I was not wearing a suit on this night.

My new friend, after going over his background, came to the crux of his problem.  He lacked proper identification.  He was adopted, and had no birth certificate.  He did not know where he was born, or who his real parents are.  This presents a problem for a man down on his luck, desperately in need of assistance from the state, for he cannot receive benefits without the required documents.  He claimed to have a pro-bono lawyer who was attempting to help him unlock his past, but there are multiple hurdles.  Dennis cannot prove who he is, and without money he has few options but to sit and wait on the street, losing hope every single day.  He told me he often considers suicide, and that every single day he has to talk himself out of leaping head first from a high place.  “Being dead would be better than this.  You have no idea Lou.  You’re the first guy who has stopped to talk to me in I don’t know how long.  Weeks.  Months.  People don’t care.  I don’t want a handout Lou.  I want to work.  I want my life back, but I can’t have it.  Everything I have ever loved is gone, and now I am trapped here on the street.  I don’t know what to do.  I am screwed.”

Watching or reading a story such as this is far different than experiencing it in real time.  There is not a dramatic soundtrack.  The look of being ashamed, of being broken, hopeless, and totally alone in the world.  I told Dennis that I wanted to help him beyond this night, and that I was going to use my resources to try to find him some answers, but for now all I could offer was some cash.  I reached into my pocket and told him he could have everything.  When I showed him the wad of cash, which meant nothing to me and the world to him, he placed his head in his hands and began to cry.

A passerby gawks at Dennis and I.

Dennis appears shocked by my offer.

Dennis appears shocked by my offer.

Dennis begins to weep in thanks, but none is required.

Dennis begins to weep in thanks, but none is required.

 

"Here you are my friend.  This is for you."

“Here you are my friend. This is for you.”

"Thank you Lou."  "You are sincerely welcome."

“Thank you Lou.” “You are sincerely welcome.”

I begged Dennis to hold on, and to not take his own life. I promised that I would be back, and that I would marshal what I could for him. With that, after talking for around an hour, we parted ways as friends and with a hug. Dennis insisted on the hug, which was something to see. This man, broken and disabled, struggled to his feet to stand on wobbly legs. We embraced for over a minute, and I reiterated that I would be back for him, good or bad, with a solution or not. I said goodnight, and walked away.

Parting as friends.

Parting as friends.

"Goodbye Dennis.  For now."

“Goodbye Dennis. For now.”

Each time I seek out an unfortunate soul to help is bitter sweet, knowing there is only so much one individual can do.  I live in a top floor penthouse condo in an upscale neighborhood. Each year my work is read by 10s of millions of people from every continent on the planet. I drink expensive liquor, wear designer clothes, dine in fancy restaurants where one pays more for ambiance and service than food, and frequent the city’s most exclusive nightclubs that people from all over the world travel to enjoy ridiculously overpriced drinks, just to say they had been there. In my life I have been outrageously fortunate to find myself in such a position, but this was not always the case. As a younger man I was extremely poor, often living on $5 or $10 a week with that money only being found through the haphazard collection of change and bottle returns. I know all too well the fear of wondering how I will pay for my next meal. While I may now live a debaucherous fast life I do remain ever mindful of the reality of my former self and how quickly, under the proper circumstances, that I may find myself once again scrounging to stay alive.

On this particular day, I appeared on the popular liberal radio program “Liberal Fix” for an hour to discuss my work and the outcomes of key election races across the nation. After the broadcast it was imparted to me by the show’s producer that my interview was the most listened to interview in the show’s history. When the show was over, I felt great. I was full of energy, and yet I felt a pull. ’Don’t pat yourself on the back too much’, I thought. ’What have you done besides flap your lips for an hour?’ It was a fair internal question, and one I wrestle with daily. The good must always outweigh the bad, for if good is not accomplished then I have accomplished nothing. This is what brought me to Dennis, and what brings me back again and again, despite the enormity of the problem.

While walking away, I felt completely beaten and deflated. The jump in my step from earlier in the night was completely gone. Having presided over the most listened to show on Liberal Fix now meant absolutely nothing to me, and in fact seemed rather trivial and pointless. I felt helpless, and beaten. How could I help Dennis? Would I be able to offer him some information and insight into his situation? He already has a lawyer, so what could I do for him?

That night, upon arriving home, I scoured the Internet for answers and I found very little. This nation does not look kindly upon those who cannot prove who they say they are. I decided rather than researching the problem that has plagued Dennis, that my time would be more productively spent speaking to the lawyer who is working on the case. In the emotion and moment of hearing the story, I had forgotten to ask who his lawyer was. As usual, after the fact there is always something left unsaid. Tomorrow I would return to the cesspool that is the Las Vegas strip. I thought to myself, “I will find Dennis, I will retrieve the information I need, and I will probably give him a few dollars.”

The following afternoon I packed a backpack for Dennis with a blanket, and some food and drinks to tide him over. I walked back to the spot I found him before…but the man was nowhere to be found. I wandered up and down the strip for an hour, but I saw no sight of him. ”Perhaps”, I thought, “he had taken my money and found himself a place to stay for a few days.” I was comforted by that. After giving up my search, I saw another homeless person sitting on the sidewalk, and I offered them the backpack I had intended to give to Dennis. They were grateful, but rather than stopping to chat I moved on.

I don’t know if I will ever see Dennis again, but I will continue to look for him and if I ever find him I will try to help him.

There are presently 7,355 homeless individuals living on the streets of Las Vegas.

 

Lou Colagiovanni is the editor of ruthless-politics.com, National Crime Reporter for Examiner.com, and editor of the political discussion community,”We survived Bush.  You will survive Obama.”  You may contact Lou at lcolagiovanni@consultant.com.

K.S. Hampton and Samuel Warde contributed to this content.