Fact Check

Hundreds of People Live in Tunnels Beneath Las Vegas?

In 2019, Las Vegas criminalized resting, sleeping, or "lodging" in the downtown district and other areas if shelter beds are available.

Published April 23, 2024

 (Instagram user @_nicolex3_)
Image courtesy of Instagram user @_nicolex3_
As of April 2024, hundreds of people live in tunnels beneath Las Vegas.

On April 20, 2024, a 2-year-old video resurfaced on the internet of a person emerging from a manhole in the middle of an intersection in Las Vegas. In one Facebook post, it was captioned: "This is in Las Vegas according to person recording. Are people living underground in Vegas? My friend who used to live in Vegas told me it's a well known thing to residents living there. They call them the tunnel people and there is an entire subculture living in the sewer tunnels of Las Vegas...."

The video was also posted by multiple X (formerly Twitter) accounts. The original was captured by Instagram user @_nicolex3_ and posted on April 10, 2022 (archived here).

While it is not possible for us to verify what the precise circumstances of this video were, it is true that people have been known to live in the tunnel system beneath Las Vegas. The tunnels were designed to act as storm drains to keep street-level flooding to a minimum during the city's monsoon season.

According to Robert Banghart, Outreach Director at Shine a Light — a 501(c)3 nonprofit committed to "bringing humanity to those living underground" — there are approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people living in the tunnels, as of this writing.

"I would say the number has grown" over the last ten 10 years, Banghart said in a phone interview with Snopes. "It's just a steady growth, just like the city. I think what's changed is there's more help available now than there was 10 years ago."

Banghart noted that the numbers of those experiencing homelessness do "ebb and flow," and he cited the building of the F1 stadium in 2023 and the Super Bowl in 2024 hosted by Las Vegas as instances in which there was "a lot of attention [on] moving them away from the center of town."

Other sources, such as Louis Lacey, director of HELP of Southern Nevada's homeless response teams, said more than 500 people live in those tunnels, as reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (archived here) in 2023. A Daily Mail piece from 2010 (archived here), claimed that the number was closer to 1,000 at that time.

(Austin Hargrave, Daily Mail U.K.)

People living in Las Vegas' underground tunnels have been widely documented, with news agencies and YouTubers alike posting videos interviewing people who live in the tunnels.

Matthew O'Brien, a journalist and author local to Las Vegas, wrote a book in 2007 documenting life in the tunnels, titled "Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas."

While the tunnels provide shelter from Las Vegas' blistering summers and relative warmth in the cooler months, during the valley's monsoon season — typically from late June through mid-September — flash floods pose extreme danger to tunnel inhabitants. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the floodwaters can pass through at speeds up to 30 mph.

One tweet from 2020 that received more than 3,100 likes, as of this writing, claimed that "Las Vegas banned all homeless people from staying on the sidewalks and streets," a claim that was disputed in the comments section.

In 2019, the Las Vegas City Council did indeed make it a misdemeanor to rest, sleep or "lodge" in Las Vegas' downtown district and other residential areas "if shelter beds are available." The ordinance stipulated that violators would be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to six months.

"It's already hard enough because there are not enough shelters," Valachie Peeples, a resident of Las Vegas, said in a 2019 interview for NBC News (archived here). "This is going to give you a fine you can't pay, and then they'll lock you up."


Chris Must List. Exploring the Tunnels Under Las Vegas with the Mole People! 🇺🇸. 2024. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr4Loojjf8g.

Daily. 'The Tunnel People of Las Vegas: How 1,000 Live in Flooded Labyrinth under Sin City's Shimmering Strip'. Mail Online, 3 Nov. 2010, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1326187/Las-Vegas-tunnel-people-How-1-000-people-live-shimmering-strip.html.

'Help the Homeless or Criminalize Them? Las Vegas Debates a Public Sleeping Ban'. NBC News, 3 Nov. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/help-homeless-or-criminalize-them-las-vegas-debates-public-sleeping-n1075111.

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'Hurricane Hilary'. City of Las Vegas, http://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/News/Blog/Detail/monsoon-season. Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

'In Tunnels under Las Vegas, Monsoon Rains Can Pose Deadly Threat'. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1 July 2017, https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/local-las-vegas/in-tunnels-under-las-vegas-monsoon-rains-can-pose-deadly-threat/.

'Las Vegas Adopts Ban on Sleeping, Camping on Streets, Sidewalks'. NBC News, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/las-vegas-adopts-ban-prohibits-sleeping-camping-streets-sidewalks-n1078006.

'Las Vegas Homeless Camping Ban: What You Need to Know'. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 6 Nov. 2019, https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/politics-and-government/las-vegas/las-vegas-homeless-camping-ban-what-you-need-to-know-1886745/.

'"Never Come Back": Flooding Highlights Dangers to Homeless Living in Tunnels'. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11 Sept. 2023, https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/never-come-back-flooding-highlights-dangers-to-homeless-living-in-tunnels-2902655/.

O'Brien, Matthew. Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. Huntington Press Inc, 2007.

'Shine A Light Works to Pull Homeless from Primal Lifestyle'. KLAS, 25 Aug. 2022, https://www.8newsnow.com/news/local-news/primal-life-escape-from-las-vegas-tunnels-starts-with-volunteer-visits/.

Taija PerryCook is a Seattle-based journalist who previously worked for the PNW news site Crosscut and the Jordan Times in Amman.