Homeless Man Lived Secret Life Underground

Dominic Van Allen built himself a bunker beneath a London park, but rangers finally found it
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2020 1:34 PM CST
Updated Mar 8, 2020 6:43 AM CDT
Homeless Man Lived Secret Life Underground
A police photo of the hidden encampment in a London park.   (Metropolitan Police (London))

In pricey London, Dominic Van Allen had found a sweet spot to live. "You had the train station, you had a cafe, you had a Starbucks, you had the hospital, you had the 168 bus, the 24, the 46," he recounts. "It was bloody brilliant." Even better: You couldn't beat the rent—it was free. But as Tom Lamont explains in a feature at the Guardian, Van Allen's home did have one big problem: It was illegal. The 46-year-old homeless man had built an underground dwelling beneath a busy public park, Hampstead Heath. The story details the laborious process undertaken by Van Allen and a friend beginning in 2013 to dig the 10-by-14-foot site—not visible from the main footpath because of thick scrub—and shore it up with wood and makeshift concrete. Van Allen gained access through a hidden hatch in the ground.

Van Allen would rise early, before any park rangers were on duty, and spend his days in the city, sometimes picking up money through odd jobs. He'd typically spend the evening in a pub, then head back to his secret locale. A portable gas stove and push-button LED lights made the place feel like home. This went on for years, until rangers finally discovered the secret hideaway. The bigger trouble came when police discovered a homemade pipe gun within. Though Van Allen denied any knowledge of the weapon and pleaded not guilty to firearms offenses, he was sentenced last summer to five years in prison. "Another concrete box," writes Lamont. Click to read the full story, which recounts not just Van Allen's improbable tale but how it fits into the context of London's larger homeless issues. (Read more Longform stories.)

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