Sunday, January 9, 2011

Decatur native helps underground homeless population in Las Vegas

From the AJC
By Bill Banks

When Matt O’Brien spent Christmas back in his hometown of Decatur, he kept receiving a steady stream of text messages, all from Las Vegas, where he’s lived the past 13 years, working as a journalist and short-story writer.

“Thanks, man, for getting us out of the tunnels,” read one. “Cold and rainy ... this week,” said another. “Can’t imagine being down there for the holidays.”

Many in his hometown remember O’Brien, who turned 40 last year, as the sharpshooting point guard for Decatur High, averaging nearly 19 points a game as a senior in 1987-88. Later he played college ball at Georgia State and West Georgia.

What he certainly never anticipated was that he’d become point person for Vegas’ 200 miles of underground flood channels, which at various times house a homeless population of up to 1,000 people.

“I really can’t find any other place in the world like Vegas, where so many people live underground,” O’Brien said during his recent return home.

In the past two years O’Brien has partnered with HELP of Southern Nevada, an organization specializing in chronic homelessness, to literally bring tunnel residents out of the dark. By now, O’Brien estimates, about 70 people have turned their lives around. Essentially this means they’ve found housing while getting treated for health issues, including various addictions, physical illness and mental disorders.

Full story at ajc

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