The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Offers coming in for man in hole

Homeless man nowhere to be seen on Thursday


March 23, 2018

David Grieder

Dr. Ali Ghaffari, left, and his son Ali Ghaffari Jr. convened Thursday evening to discuss ideas for assisting a homeless man discovered this month to have been living in a hole in the ground on their property.

CLOVIS — The good intentions are surely out there, but the man of the hour was scarce to be seen Thursday after reports of a homeless person living in a hole in the ground went public this week.

Ali Ghaffari Jr., whose father owns the property off West Seventh Street where Sean Heron dug an underground dwelling that was discovered this month, said he means "nothing but good" for the man.

"I want him to know that we're here to help," Ghaffari Jr. said Thursday evening. "We see that he's in need. We want to help him."

Ghaffari Jr. said he and his father, a local physician, would like to offer to Heron, 43, the old auto shop building directly adjacent to his underground abode as a temporary residence until he can get back on his feet.

"At least there, there's running water, electricity," he said, noting that with this arrangement Heron could stay close with the animals that have been his neighbors for more than year. It could be a sort of transitional period of a few months during which Ghaffari Jr. said he would not make demands of Heron in return.

"He doesn't have to do anything, just have him stay there a few months until he gets on his feet," he said. "It's not 'this-for-that.' Those are my intentions."

Ghaffari Jr. also said Thursday night he planned to mount an online fundraiser for Heron, "if he's accepting."

That might be a big "if," based on Heron's previous statements that he wasn't looking for help and his absence from his underground home on Thursday.

"If he's accepting of it. That's the main thing. Some people don't accept handouts," said Clovis resident Margaret Fritz, who attended an impromptu meeting Thursday evening for those interested in helping Heron. "I just think it's pretty incredible what he's done. That shows a true spirit of survival."

Heron told The News this week that he dug the space in 2017 after breaking his hand and losing his job and home. By August of that year the space was finished, complete with stairs carved from the earth and a sleeping compartment.

He said he doesn't plan to stay there forever, but recent events might accelerate his relocation. Heron's living situation became known to many after videos went online early this week depicting footage from the interior of his tunnel residence.

Less than two weeks earlier, police first found Heron in the hole after being notified by a person who pointed out its proximity to a city park. However, the hole is on private property and it's up to the Ghaffari landowners how they wish to proceed.

If it were city land, the situation might be very different.

"I wouldn't know anything about the structural integrity of (the hole), but as far as code issues there's no way that that thing is anywhere close to being up to code," said Clovis' Building Safety Director Pete Wilt, who noted the space's lack of ventilation, heat and utility connections.

While city officials urge the public not to try exploring the space, it has served Heron as a home for more than a year.

Repeated attempts to locate Heron on Thursday were unsuccessful, and city officials and friends said they had not seen him either. The entrance to the hole was layered with more dust and debris than normal on Thursday, but the space did not appear to have been filled in.

Rogelio Hernandez said he's known Heron some time, and for much of the past year "thought he was staying with a friend on Seventh Street."

Hernandez said Heron would sometimes use his residence on Grand Street for a mailing address or a place to shower, but still felt like he would benefit from some kind of extra support.

"There's a lot of Christian people out here willing to help," he said.

Clovis' Lighthouse Mission Director Richard Gomez said he didn't recall ever seeing Heron at the shelter, which provides clothing, food, furniture, shower facilities and a limited temporary overnight shelter to those in need.

He said he first became aware that someone was living in a hole off Seventh street about two months ago and he made repeated visits to the spot since, looking to offer help.

"I thought maybe we could help him out with something," Gomez told The News. "I checked several times in the past and couldn't find him."

Gomez, who co-founded the mission in 1988, said this is the first he's ever known or even heard of a person living underground. He doubted Heron's interest in accepting the many offers of support voiced online in the first day after his living conditions went public.

"He probably wants to stay living in that hole, I bet," he said.

But if people insist on helping somehow, Gomez recommended supporting the organizations serving the community instead of giving directly to individuals.

"I would recommend the public to help out organizations that help out the homeless and the poor. We have the tools and the experience of how to help the homeless people," he said, including other area service groups like Matt 25 and the Salvation Army in that lot. "And if people need some help they can come to the mission and we'll try to help them any which way we can."

Gary Anthony Pacheco, another Clovis resident, also took the story as an opportunity to ask after the homeless at large.

"What about the other people who are homeless, and have dogs who are starving? You know what, I say help the needy all over," he said.

Ghaffari Jr. said he would continue to try and speak with Heron. How to proceed if Heron declines assistance will be a topic to address if that time comes.

"First things first, help a person in need," he said. "We're concerned with the safety of him and everyone."


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