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.