Shedding Light in The Dark For Homeless Nevadans

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Homeless encampments spot Las Vegas sewer along University Center Dr. and Flamingo Rd. Photo by Allister Dias.

Below the flashy appearances of hotels and casinos in Las Vegas lie dark tunnels filled with homeless people. The 600-mile labyrinth is considered home to an estimated 1,500 individuals, which has raised many safety concerns. As shown through different news outlets this decade, life within the tunnels is unsuitable, with violence and storms often causing deaths. This begs the question: What can we do to solve the homelessness crisis underground? Should the city drive the people out and into homeless shelters? Or should the community continue to do its best to provide help for the people who live there? The city of Las Vegas has the opportunity to shine a light in such dark places, but if the state doesn’t implement solutions soon, the problem will only progress. 

For many people, this is a place where they come to live and be forgotten. Within the community, there are hundreds who have stayed for more than a decade, using batteries for electricity and mattresses to sleep on. The issue with this, however, is the danger it poses to the people making that decision. Every year, there are instances of killings and reported attacks. Mark Deandre Grant, for example, was well known within the tightly knit homeless community underground and was fatally shot on Feb. 20, 2023. His girlfriend, like many others, agrees that the tunnels are becoming increasingly dangerous. While crime threats have become a recurring problem, there is also a dreadful tale of nature. These occupied passageways were primarily built to capture and redirect water, meaning when it floods, not only do belongings wash away but also people themselves. In August 2022, two people were left dead after channels were flooded with water. One was taken to a hospital and eventually died, and the other was found in a pile of debris. 

Another problem is that there are people who want to leave but can’t. These outliers are stuck either because of their addictions or lack of resources. Robert Banghardt, one of the few to make it out, lost hope for himself on many occasions. After attacks that almost left him dead and then having his social security card stolen, it took him years to get back on his feet. Many like him who are still living there need to be reached. The Shine A Light program, for which he is the outreach coordinator, has been doing just that. However, there needs to be more effort from the city to solve this issue entirely. With the accessibility of affordable housing becoming harder to reach in the valley and wages staying stagnant, it’s no wonder the numbers are growing each year. 

“We need to have more workforce housing, affordable housing, better access to medical care and mental health care. Those are the things that are going to solve the problem, along with paying higher wages to our essential workers, who are the people at risk of becoming homeless.” said Professor Barr, an Assistant Professor in social work at UNLV, in an interview over Zoom. “In some cases, it’s also important that we have supportive housing for the small group of people who are really sick and need a lot of support and who wouldn’t be successful in an independent unit. Temporary shelters aren’t the solution,” Barr concluded 

The living conditions that the inhabitants of these tunnels face will continue to destroy lives. Whether it’s creating a policy to allocate funds towards giving these people housing or implementing more programs, something needs to be done to guarantee the safety and prosperity of homeless Nevadans.

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