LAS VEGAS (FOX5) - Under the glitz and glamour of the neon lights, there is a darkness that few people ever see.
Hundreds of miles of storm drains connect the city, meant to protect the valley from flash floods.
After a few heavy rains, one man went into the tunnels to help hundreds of homeless people who live inside.
Running under the Las Vegas Strip, there are 600 miles of tunnels. The storm channels have become people’s homes.
“The water, this is from just four days ago, five days ago,” Tommy said. “(Mother Nature) took everything we had again ... I live in a drain. What do you expect?”
“You can never get comfortable here,” he said.
“When it first comes down, it’s the debris that I’m scared of because it can take you down,” Angell said. “Water is fierce.”
After every big storm, their homes get washed out.
“It’s part of life down here, you have to keep track of the weather,” Angell said. “I’m usually the one telling others 'it’s going to rain.'”
Some of them have cell phones. They either use prepaid ones or rely on nearby businesses to connect to their free Wi-Fi.
“This is what we have to look forward to after the rain,” Rusti showed what happened after her clothes got soaked in the rain.
Then, they have to start all over again.
“You got to take baby steps,” Tommy said. “We got to get our ID’s because we lost everything in the flood again. Again.”
“My husband made these walls right here,” Rusti said as she showed her home.
“They come in and steal whatever they can from this place,” she said. “They’re homeless people. They think I have so much.”
On this day, Rusti had just finished trying to make pancakes on her makeshift stove. She chopped wood to start a fire.
“It’s rough. It’s not easy, not easy at all,” she said.
Rusti and her husband had to fight for a spot in the tunnels.
“I mean, it’s just a battle,” she said.
Their's isn’t even the biggest one.
“If you go down six, all the way down and around, the corner, there’s a side tunnel,” she said.
“You can’t see much of nothing because it’s black,” Rusti said. “You have to have light, otherwise you’re in trouble and you’ll get lost.”
They know it’s not an amazing space or an ideal life.
“My wife really wants out of the tunnels,” Tommy said. “It’s weird because you don’t want to spend one night down here. Then, next thing you know, it’s five years later.”
What the tunnels lack most: privacy and security.
“You have to sleep with one eye open sometimes, all the time really,” Tommy said. “You kind of get used to it, which is a sad thing.”
“I don’t have no locks for my doors, my front or my back,” Rusti said.
Rusti and her husband sleep during the day. Then later in the afternoon, they walk through the drains to get to the Strip, where they spend their day panhandling.
Some days, they can get around $100 in handouts.
While they have built a sense of community, it’s still a matter of survival.
“People die in these tunnels all the time. If it’s not from Mother Nature, it’s from human nature,” Tommy said.
“Right now, in the 18 to 20 years I’ve been down here, it’s the worst with thieves,” Angell said. “It really is and we have no counsel or anything. We are probably the most unorganized hum bums I know.”
Robert Hoey, known as Fox, stops by to check on the tunnel dwellers.
“We actually started years and years and years ago,” he said. “We just came down here because we thought it looked interesting.”
Robert started the non-profit Shadows of Hope.
“I’m one step away from being homeless myself. All the money I make goes into my charity to help these guys,” Hoey said. “You treat them like human beings, the same way you want to be treated, it opens all sorts of doors.”
A combat medic, Hoey brings down bottled water, food, toiletries and clean syringes.
“Thirty-three percent unfortunately are suffering from Hepatitis B or C, HIV is about 20 percent,” Hoey said. “Since we’ve been doing this program, we’ve seen those numbers drop by about four to seven percent. A simple program like mine that costs our nonprofit $400 over the years, saves the city millions of dollars.”
Drugs are what landed most of these people down here.
But some told us, they’re finally working to get clean and get out.
“I want to get out of here. I can’t live this life anymore. I can’t take it,” Rusti said.
“We’re gonna get out of here, we’re gonna get out of here. It’s not long now,” Tommy said. “It’s fascinating to say the least. But once you’re a part of it, you live it, it’s not that fascinating. Trust me.”
FOX5 intentionally chose not to reveal the location of the tunnels.
To learn more about Hoey’s nonprofit, Shadows of Hope, or to get involved, click here.