Hidden beneath the lights and glamor of Las Vegas’ iconic strip is a much darker side of Sin City than what tourists are used to. Vegas’ sprawling tunnel system is home to 300 to 400 people who have built lives for themselves underground. 

In the 1990s, the city began construction on storm-drainage tunnels to prevent against flash floods. Two hundred miles of flood tunnels were built, and today they house much of Las Vegas’ homeless population. Many of them are veterans suffering from PTSD. Others came to Las Vegas in search of a better life and fell onto hard times. The tunnels are largely ignored by police, and a peek inside shows evidence of life at every turn. One section has been transformed into something of an art gallery with detailed graffiti filling the walls. Another space houses a couple who have fully furnished the 400 square-foot room with a wardrobe, a double bed, and a bookshelf that holds a small library of salvaged books. 

Such elaborate living spaces become problematic whenever the flood tunnels are used for their original purpose. Rain water can flow through the tunnels and wash away the residents' belongings, which one dweller referred to as “flushing the toilet.”

After journalist Matthew O’Brien discovered the Las Vegas tunnels when reporting a story, he founded the Shine a Light project to provide food, clothing, services, and more to the city’s underground homeless population. Together with HELP of Southern Nevada, they set up people in desperate situations with alternative housing and the attention they need. If you win big on your next trip to Vegas—or not—consider making a donation at helpsonv.org.

[h/t: Daily Mail]