The media only portrays the glittering aspect of Las Vegas. How fun the nightlife is and how it’s a hot spot for tourism. When tourists visit the city, they’re there to have fun, sightsee, and shop. What most people don’t know is that there’s another side to this glittering city and it exits right under their feet.

Source: Unsplash/Matt Collamer

No one talks about the underground tunnels that have become a safe space for a lot of homeless people. What’s more weird, most people don’t know it exists. Even locals are confused when the tunnels are talked about.

What Led To The Creation Of Underground Tunnels?

The glittering sun city was built in a desert. This made the location prone to frequent torrents and floods. As a way to prevent the city from flooding, they designed these tunnels to aid water management and drainage within the city. This was the government’s way of protecting its people.

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Las Vegas has quite an intricate number of tunnels and if we take a closer look they’d be spanning hundreds of miles with the sole purpose of capturing and redirecting water within the city. Little did the government know that these tunnels would become a future home to many homeless people.

The Underground Tunnel: Home To Thousand Homeless People

We all know how wet and damp any tunnel can be, unfortunately, hundreds of people still refer to these tunnels as their homes. These people are those who have suffered from the ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor. They are mostly referred to as America’s forgotten.

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A lot of these tunnels have become small communities that are off the map. They house hundreds of homeless people and provide a little bit of comfort. Some of these people are temporary occupants who stay in and out every other weekend. And those who have nowhere else to go other than the tunnels.

How Does It Feel To Live In A Tunnel?

Life in these tunnels isn’t that great but they at least put a roof over hundreds of heads. With the little space available in these industrial-sized, concrete-walled waterways, each person manages to put together a small-sized apartment for their use. They have to live without fresh water and battery-generated electricity.

Source: Wikimedia/Helsinski City Museum

Even with all these unpleasant living conditions we have people who have occupied a space in the tunnel for a decade or even more. They have made it their home. Fun fact is that each occupied tunnel has its own culture and rituals as well as individuals who act as unofficial leaders.

How Bad Is The Homeless Crisis In America? 

How did the homeless crisis in America become this bad? This is a result of the housing pandemic which plagued America’s housing economy. At least every night about 200,000 Americans sleep in public places because they do not have a home. You can easily find them in pitch tents, under bridges, and even in the doorways of office buildings.

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The issue of homelessness is often easy to ignore, especially when we’re not the ones going through such a sad situation. People are comfortable with people sleeping under their feet and still do nothing to make things better. They soon realised that the underground city was a place where they could hide for longer periods and decided to make it their home

Finding Hope In The Most Hopeless Place

With thousands of homeless Americans, it is now obvious that the country has no will to rescue these people or provide them with a lasting solution. This is the major reason many homeless people take matters into their own hands. These underground tunnels have become a thriving community that welcomes those who have suffered from America’s homeless crisis.

Source: Wikimedia/Spielvogel

To make it a home, they gather every piece of discarded item they can lay their hands on. Most people have beds and even bed frames, they have tables and chairs, coolers, bicycles, and even barbecue grills, talk about making the best of what you have. It is safe to say that people are making their lives worth living in these tunnels.

The Tunnels Gets Dangerous When It’s Raining

Because the tunnels were created to redirect water within the city, it becomes quite dangerous during rainy seasons. However, the inhabitants of the tunnel are always prepared. Their items sit on homemade stilts that are a foot or two feet high. This is because when the water comes, it always comes fast and hard, sweeping away everything it touches.

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To prevent this unfortunate situation they do not stray too far from the entrance, this is to prevent them from being swept away by water. The water in the tunnels tends to get pretty high, sometimes up to the abdomen and that’s enough to drown anyone if you fail to wake up on time.

The Tunnel Gets Dangerous Even When It’s Not Raining

More danger awaits the people living in the tunnel apart from rain and possible flooding. Especially when these underground communities are filled with people from different backgrounds. The tunnels have become a hiding space for drug peddlers who are wanted by law enforcement. There’s also the presence of guns, knives, and irrational people.

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Although not all underground tunnel residents are hiding from the law, some are hiding from their wicked bosses, some are even hiding from their parents. And we have those who have found themselves there because they are out of jobs and can no longer afford to take care of themselves.

The Tunnel Became An Actual Thriving Community

With a lot of residents over the years the underground tunnel soon became a thriving community. Law and order became important. Every one of the underground tunnel communities had their own elected officials and even a mayor who led them.

Source: Unsplash/Syed Aoun Abbas

The residents living in the tunnel have become dependent on each other and have come to realize that life is easier when you have a companion. The residents tend to look out for each other and even share their resources.

Finally A Ray Of Hope For The Underground Tunnel Communities

Paul Vautrinot is 34, a man whose appearance shows that he’s been through a lot in his lifetime. Covered with arm and neck tattoos that peep out from his clothes. Paul’s is a reminder that you can still find hope after living in the underground tunnel.

Source: Facebook/Shine a Light Foundation

Paul is now the executive director of Shine A Light, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who live in underground tunnels. Paul and his organization have helped a lot of people regarding issues like housing, drug counseling, and even job training.

Paul’s Life As A Resident Of The Underground Tunnel

Vautrinot’s life in the tunnel was just like every other tunnel resident out there. Paul’s mother was an addict and soon enough he also started doing drugs. And by the time he was 18, he was already on opium.

Source: Facebook/Shine a Light Foundation

Time passed and Paul became homeless and on the streets. He was going about his business when he met a group of older guys who invited him into their tunnel. Imagine how surprised he was to learn that some of them have been there for decades.

The New Guy Had To Learn The Rules

Paul was given a tiny bed, and just as the rules of the tunnel, the newest guy was always the closest to the entrance. The tunnels had rules and Paul had to learn them. Another thing he learned was that there were consequences for breaking those rules. Something like an eviction where they burn your property as punishment.

Source: Facebook/Shine a Light Foundation

Very soon Paul became accustomed to the tunnel life. It felt like home to him. He started to explore the many tunnels in Las Vegas on his cute bike, till he could go through them even in the dark. While at it he even made meaningful friendships

The New Guy Became A Drug Lord

Life on the street finally got the best of Paul and he soon started dealing drugs. Paul had the perfect elaborate plan. He would pass the drug through the bars get his money and quickly disappear into thick darkness

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This lifestyle became difficult, his dealing drew more attention towards him. He couldn’t face those who brought him in, the constant run from the police, and how sick he felt every time he needed to use drugs. And after three years he decided to quit for good.

Paul Decided To Do Better

Paul knew he had to do better, he took a positive step towards change after he got arrested. He decided to get sober and even got a regular job at the car wash just above the tunnel he used to live in.

Source: Facebook/Shine a Light Foundation

This led Vautrainot to join the Shine A Light Organization where he volunteered to help people like him. And when the founder decided to switch cities he asked Paul to take over and he was extremely happy for this opportunity.


The living condition of those individuals residing in the underground tunnels reminds us that no matter how bleak things may seem there’s always a glimmer of hope waiting at the end of the tunnel. The life of Paul Vautrainot is a living example.

Source: Facebook/Shine a Light Foundation

Thanks to Vautrainot and Shine A Light, they have been able to shed more light on the living conditions of those living in these tunnels while helping several people live better lives. Paul has made it known that he’s always ready to lend a hand.