The drainage tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Strip will be cleared of unhoused people as part of Super Bowl preparations, starting next week. This comes after a similar police sweep was conducted before the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix in November.
The tunnels, which were constructed after a 1975 flash flood trashed 300 cars parked in the Caesars Palace parking lot, are flood channels that redirect storm water underneath the Strip and its surrounding communities. It is believed that clearing the tunnels is a precaution to thwart tunnel access to terrorists seeking to plant explosive devices near large U.S. gatherings.
Despite the fact that it is technically illegal for anyone without authorization to enter the tunnels, they are home to 1,500 people who cannot afford to pay rent and/or suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. Most tunnel residents shun shelters because they forbid them from living with their spouses and/or pets.
Shine A Light, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, supports those wanting to reintegrate into society and cares for those who do not. According to the Shine A Light Outreach director Robert Banghart, there has been a noticeable increase in efforts to clear out the tunnels around the Strip since the F1 and with the anticipated arrival of the A’s, the new stadium, and increased presence downtown.
The tunnels offer a shelter from the summer heat and from police officers who break up homeless encampments on the streets above, but become dangerous death traps when it rains. Bodies are washed through the tunnels toward Lake Mead by the runoff from surprise rainstorms in the mountains west of town at least once a year.
The police have stated that they will make in-person announcements about their upcoming sweep and offer other housing options to the displaced. They will remove all barriers to tunnel entry following the Super Bowl.