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Couple find love, place of their own after living in tunnel

For Chantall Everett to describe herself through her 43-year life, some unsavory identifiers would pop up with some triumphant ones.

Mother. Divorcee. Hard worker. Unemployable. Independent. Alone. Homeless. Alcoholic.

Everett’s downward spiral led her into the tunnels under Las Vegas, once her sanctuary city. The Louisiana native spent about 18 months in a community of about a dozen people who called the mouth of the Flamingo Road-Swenson Street wash home.

She met her fiance among them, a fellow addict but no less a comfort and protector.

Rescue came when the couple were ready. Hope and prosperity followed, fueled by Everett’s restored will.

“I hated being out on the streets — but I chose that,” Everett said. “It was my fault. I wanted to get out of it.”

Everett’s first and second beginnings in Las Vegas bookend 17 years apart but on the same day. Reeling from a bad divorce, Everett moved to Las Vegas on March 10, 1993. She worked as a waitress at the Castaways, a now-demolished hotel-casino on Boulder Highway. She floated to managerial jobs at fast-food restaurants until she landed a steady gig with an insurance provider.

“I was doing OK , but I started drinking heavily,” Everett said of the time of around early 2008.

Alcoholism started deteriorating everything she was building. Everett’s absenteeism at work led to her termination. Her estranged relationships with her then eight children forced Clark County Child Protective Services to intervene and her family to step in. She eventually lost her home.

“My pride was too strong to ask my friends for help,” she said. “So I lived in the wash.”

All of Everett’s belongings were condensed to a shopping cart and backpack. She panhandled and collected soda cans near the Strip for income, which she subsidized for a time with $200 a month in food stamps.

A pile of ratty blankets under a wash bridge was home.

“I had my squat there, and I would take showers at Cambridge (Recreation) Center . I was a clean homeless person,” she said. “For me, going from having everything to nothing, I at least tried to keep up my appearance.”

Everett called the life “easy but hard at the same time.”

Living in a drainage tunnel meant instant flash flooding ; sometimes water would rise to her waist before she could scamper out.

She had to watch herself from police and some of her more volatile homeless peers.

At the time, though, Everett met Alavatualua Talalasi, a man whose homelessness eclipsed her time eightfold.

He had a wiry beard matched in length by dreadlocks. He was 17 years older than her and about 10 years into a bitter battle with crack addiction.

“We became friends and then more,” Everett said. “For me, having him, I felt safe. We started talking about getting out, Al and I.”

One day, social workers from HELP of Southern Nevada, 1640 E. Flamingo Road, Suite 100, greeted them at the couple’s tunnel squat and offered a way out.

Without hesitation, Everett and Talalasi said yes.

“It was the will of the Lord to answer our prayers,” Talalasi said. “It was our time.”

Days before they could start addiction counseling and get housing, Everett was hospitalized for severe seizures related to her alcoholism. It was the last straw, she said. She wanted to get clean, too.

On March 10, 2010 — exactly 17 years after moving to Las Vegas — Everett moved into a one-bedroom apartment with Talalasi.

Both have been clean and sober since that day.

About two months later, on Mother’s Day, Everett discovered she was pregnant.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It pushed me to succeed.”

Son Alema was born Dec . 29.

“I enjoyed my pregnancy,” Everett said. “He moved around a lot, just like he does now.”

At 6 months old, their curious brown-eyed boy already has sidestepped crawling and taken steps. Talalasi, who is looking for work as a cook, stays home with him during the day while Everett works 40 hours a week at the deli counter of a Walmart.

Photos of him hang on the wall next to those of Everett’s other children, with whom she is trying to restore relationships.

The family still lives near the wash where Everett and Talalasi once lived but now pays its own rent and gives back to HELP of Southern Nevada.

The couple maintain relationships with some of their homeless friends.

They and Alema bring bread to feed ducks and feral cats near the wash but vow never to go back into the tunnel, they said.

If their son or any of Everett’s other children asks about their past, Everett said they are prepared .

“I’ll be honest,” she said. “Why hide it?”

They plan to raise Alema as a Mormon and attend services regularly, Everett and Talalasi said.

Getting closer to their faith helps them give thanks for their stumbles and triumphs, Talalasi said.

“The Lord is always with you,” he said. “He opened up our lives. We meant business when we changed. We will not look back.”

For more information on HELP of Southern Nevada or to donate, call 369-4357 or visit helpsonv.org.

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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