Posts Tagged ‘Open Door Mission’

A wind-chill advisory was in effect today until noon for the Omaha area and parts to the south toward Nebraska City, Falls City and Beatrice and sections west that included Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney and Hastings. The advisory was also issued for extreme northwest Iowa and most of southwest Iowa.

As a bitter cold front is making its way into the Metro area in Omaha this week, furnaces will be set on high, and people will be bundled up trying to keep warm as they venture outdoors. Wind chill will set record temperatures as low as 30 below zero. With temperatures forecast to be below zero for highs, being outside can be deadly.

The cold ripped through my body in just the few minutes it took me to take out the trash today—so how can someone survive for long periods of time outdoors in this? Where do the homeless go when temperatures get dangerous?

Local shelters have been preparing to absorb more people because of the cold.
Mike Saklar, Executive Director of the Siena/Francis House in Omaha said, “This is very dangerous weather.” Mike has seen this before. He sees the homeless every day and knows that when the weather gets dangerously cold like it means that some will show up suffering from the cold. Although Mike and the staff at the Sienna/Francis House always expect an increase in visitors in cold weather, it’s an overwhelming challenge now because of the already extreme overcrowding.

The Sienna/Francis House has a policy of never turning anyone away who shows up. Rather than referring to visitors as clients, Mike and his staff refer to the homeless as guests. Mike considers himself as a kind of Shepard; and like any good shepherd, he knows that he’ll have to try and look for some of the lost sheep on the cold streets of Omaha. “We’ll send out patrols every hour looking for people.” He said. “And we’ll do it all night.”

Teens are especially vulnerable when the weather turns cold. Because of young people aging out of foster care system or an abusive family situation, many youth end up on the streets to fend for themselves. Shawn Miller of Youth Emergency Services said he would locate shelter for any teenager who needed it. He expected 60 or more teens to show up for Tuesday’s pantry night near 26th and Harney Streets. “We’ll do whatever we can to make them safe for the night,” said Miller, outreach coordinator for YES. That includes transportation to a shelter, a friend’s home or anywhere else they’ve found to stay.

It only takes a moment.
It can only take a matter of minutes for someone to suffer from frostbite in bitter cold. Dr. Mindy Lacey, of UNMC, said, “The most common areas that we see that get frost bite are the ears, nose, fingers and toes.” The worst effect of frostbite is with the onset of tingling or numbness and not understanding what’s happening. For the vulnerable or those who simply don’t know better, waiting too long after being exposed to the cold, could cause them to suffer irreparable damage.

Places like the Open Door Mission in Omaha are seeing a lot more people who need a place to keep warm too. “All of our beds on campus are filled, but we can always drag out another mat, we can get more blankets, linens and pillows,” said Candace Gregory, CEO of the Open Door Mission. “The Open Door Mission is already overflowing.” She said. “All of the shelter’s 860 beds are full, and on Monday night there were nearly 200 men, women and children sleeping on mats.” The Lydia House, a shelter for women and children at the Open Door Mission, has also seen an increase of 37 percent. They are maxed out at that facility.

Del Bomberger, executive director of the Stephen Center, said his shelter has plenty of mats and floor space in the gym at its temporary location in the old St. Mary Catholic School, at 5310 S. 36th St.

There are approximately 2000 homeless men, women and children in the Omaha Metro Area each night. Brutal weather has left workers scrambling to provide enough space, blankets, coats and gloves for those seeking refuge from the cold.

How you can help
Below is a list of critical needs for homeless shelters. You can drop these off at any of the local shelters in your area.

• Blankets, sheets, and pillows
• Gloves, hats, and coats of all sizes
• Men’s and women’s wool socks
• Thermal underwear – size small, medium, large and X-large
• Winter boots of all sizes

Living on the streets is dangerous any time of year, but that’s especially dangerous when temperatures dip below freezing. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 700 homeless people die from hypothermia every year. But unless someone is underage, you can’t force them to come inside. If you know someone is living outside and you can’t get them to seek shelter, call the police and let them know, so they can take them to one of the shelters, because…

No one should die just because they’re homeless.

CD Release Concert!

Only four more days until the release of our latest CD, Living In Babylon!

So if you’re in the Omaha area Saturday, April 28th stop in at Cafe 110 to celebrate the release of our latest CD, ‘Living In Babylon’ with special guest, Kyle Knapp. Admission is a $2.00 donation to benefit the Open Door Mission. We also ask that you bring non-perishable items to be donated to the Sienna/Francis House.

Owner Allan Zeeck recently closed his Benson Grind restaurant but you can be sure that he will continue the same family friendly atmosphere and great food that you’ve come to love. So come out and enjoy some great music and delicious food, while helping out some very important ministries to our community.  Cafe 110 is located at 1299 Farnam St. Suite 110 Omaha, NE.

If you’re unable to attend the concert you can download the MP3 version at:

https://www.reverbnation.com/store/index/artist_558766

 

 

 

 

In October of 2003, a cross-section of stakeholders from Nebraska attended a Federal Policy Academy in Denver, CO. The Policy Academy was one of several in which all States eventually participated. The purpose of the Academy was to assist States in developing “10-Year Plans to End Chronic Homelessness.” Nebraska’s resulting 10-Year Plan was titled “Nebraska’s 10-Year Plan for Increasing Access to Mainstream Services for Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness.”

Nebraska’s 10-Year Plan was unveiled in 2004 and was formally adopted by the governor-appointed Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness. To ensured sustained and continued implementation of the 10-Year Plan, the Commission created a standing committee titled the “Ad Hoc Committee on Ending Chronic Homelessness.” The Ad Hoc Committee’s membership includes State inter-agency personnel, nonprofit housing and homelessness prevention service providers, and representatives of various consumer demographics. The Ad Hoc Committee serves as a State level version of the United States Inter-agency Council on Homelessness.

During 2010, the Nebraska Plan was revised to include five overall objectives. The Plan’s revised title is now “Completing the Journey: Nebraska’s Action Plan for People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness.” The Plan includes implementation objectives for the period beginning January 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2012.

Chronic Homelessness

According to Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, the Federal definition of chronic homelessness is: “Individuals or families headed by an individual with any of the following: diagnosable substance use disorder; serious mental illness; developmental disability; post-traumatic stress disorder; chronic physical illness or disability; and/or co-occurrence of two or more disabilities.”

The Nebraska Ad Hoc Committee on Ending Chronic Homelessness believes that the path to ending chronic homelessness starts where people are at risk of being homeless and involves meeting people where they are with a place for supports and connections to occur.

http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/fia_nhap_nhapplan.aspx

From under a bridge to a home

Homeless for years, Mark Rettele lived in the most improbable places; His usual habitation was under the bridge near 36th and L. During that terrible winter of 2009-10 his friends had fled, leaving Rettele alone to survive on that concrete ledge through the snow and the cold. His way of life was getting old. And so was he.

Rettele is one of the “chronically homeless” — people who typically have a disability, an addiction or both and have been continuously homeless for more than a year.

Their needs and society’s cost have propelled a national push called “Housing First” that offers permanent supportive housing — apartments or assisted living with case management — to chronically homeless people without first requiring that they get sober, get healthy or have jobs. It reflects a thrust by the government to get chronically homeless people off the streets and, some skeptics point out, off homeless census counts.

Proponents say it can save lives and money. One recent study of formerly homeless alcoholics in Seattle reported a $30,000-per-person savings a year. Omaha’s Housing First was launched in October 2010. That’s when the city joined others in a campaign called 100,000 Homes, named after its goal of housing 100,000 people nationwide.

The campaign gives priority to the most medically fragile, and so an Omaha team works off a list built after a massive census of the homeless. Outreach workers canvass known hangouts or sleep spots for the homeless and try to find and keep up with those on their list. They try to persuade them to agree to housing, and then find a place for them to stay.

The team in 2010 surveyed 908 homeless people, identifying 520 as vulnerable under a measure that takes into account emergency room visits, presence of chronic disease, addiction, mental illness and occurrence of frostbite. Of those 520, 120 have been placed into housing in Omaha. Local advocates plan to analyze costs, but the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless couldn’t immediately say how much it had spent to get these 120 people housed.

They expect a savings, given national research shows that vulnerable people, once housed, are less likely to wind up in emergency room care or in jail. And their research indicates that reduced jail and ER time would save money. In 2008, the continuum looked at the costs of a one-night stay in an emergency shelter ($12.54), hospital emergency room ($2,156) and jail ($82 plus $179 for arrest costs).

Under the 100,000 Homes program, those housed get their own apartments; in some cases they go to assisted living with roommates. They also get caseworkers who visit regularly and offer support geared to make that housing stick.

What it takes to house the chronic homeless 

Heartland Family Service is paying Mark Rettele $500 monthly rent and utilities. It also has provided caseworker Lisa Rice, who estimates that she has spent more than 20 hours in the past three months on Rettele’s needs and about 20 hours before that trying to persuade Rettele to trade bridge life for an apartment. (And he’s one of her lowest-needs clients)

Rice met Rettele during that Housing First homeless census. At the time he wasn’t found vulnerable enough to immediately qualify for an apartment. But Rice kept her eye out for him during countless hours in South Omaha looking for other clients and trying to encourage more chronically homeless people to come inside.

For nearly a year he stayed off her radar — in part because of three hospital emergency room visits and five jail stints for misdemeanors ranging from having an open container to trespassing.

Then, in August she ran into him and updated his profile. He was back under the bridge. Turns out, that after his hospital stays, he qualified for housing. What surprised Rice was that he had registered for class at Metropolitan Community College.

Rettele trusted Rice and the two spent hours in her car driving around South Omaha looking for an apartment. The place had to comply with Heartland’s requirements of affordability — rent plus utilities couldn’t exceed $600 — and it had to have a landlord willing to take a chance on someone like Rettele with no job, no recent record of renting and a criminal record laden with misdemeanors.

They finally found a willing landlord and an affordable apartment in November and Rettele moved in with nothing more than some clothes. So a homeless resource team in Omaha provided a move-in kit that included trash cans, cleaning supplies, pots, pans and dishes and some other basics.

It’s a nice story, but there’s a tough reality of housing long-time homeless people with addictions, mental illnesses and other problems.

Mike Saklar runs the 340-bed Siena-Francis House in north downtown. Del Bomberger runs the Stephen Center in South Omaha.

Both shelters deal with really difficult cases that need the most support. Even when a chronically homeless person lives on the street, they tend to come back to the shelters for motivation, moral support, meals and pantries.

Homeless services here, as elsewhere, rely on government grants and private donations. One major federal grant has increased overall funding for Omaha from $209,000 in 2009 to $360,000 this fiscal year. But the emergency shelter portion is now capped at 60 percent. At least 40 percent of the formerly Emergency Shelter Grant, now called Emergency Solutions, must go to other long-term housing strategies.

Saklar and Bomberger have plans of their own to add “permanent housing” to their emergency shelter campuses. Siena-Francis House is building 48 efficiency-style apartments; Stephen Center has plans for a complex to house 14 families and 40 single people. The Open Door Mission in east Omaha opened 42 two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Saklar said his staff has had to retrieve formerly homeless people from off-site apartments because conditions became too unsafe. He said the apartments he’s building on campus will help his staff keep better tabs on their homeless clients.

Saklar said his shelter calls 911 at least once a day for what is often a seizure or heart problem.

“A lot of homeless people need 24-hour care,” Saklar said. “We see lots of people who have head trauma, heart problems, and they need medical care. You have to ensure they’re taking their meds daily. If someone like that is placed in off-site apartments, how do you do that?”

But proponents of Housing First say the alternative leaves some of society’s most vulnerable to street life, which is dangerous and expensive.

The 2009 Seattle study found that it was twice as costly to do nothing than to provide free housing to the homeless. Over the course of a year, participants in the Seattle Housing First program reduced their total costs by more than $4 million, compared with the year before they enrolled, according to results published in the April 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association. That amounted to a savings of nearly $30,000 a year per person when Housing First costs were considered.

In other words, it’s all about saving money. In the year they were on the streets, this population of homeless people with jail and hospital time racked up costs of about $43,000 apiece. But when fully paid apartments and on-site social services were factored in, costs dropped to about $13,000 per year per person.

What about families?

The U.S. Conference of Mayors 2010 Status Report on Hunger & Homelessness in American Cities in their annual assessment of 26 American cities tallied a 9 percent overall increase in the number of homeless families between September 1, 2009 and August 31, 2010. Fifty-eight percent of the cities analyzed showed an increase in family homelessness.

Based on this survey, on an average night, 1,105 family members are on the streets, 10,926 find refuge in an emergency shelter, and 15,255 stay in transitional homes. Trapped in this deteriorating economy, low-income families find themselves stuck in financial sinking sand and, although they have work, they must move out of their homes, and onto the streets because of low wages.

Of the 1.6 million children who are homeless each year in America, 42% are under age 6. Spending their critical early years in unstable housing, unhealthy environments, and chronic stress poses serious risks to a young child’s healthy development.

These are families that have lost their homes and don’t have the credit rating to get into another apartment and don’t have the savings to afford first- and last-month rent payments. Seventy-nine percent of the households with children accounted for in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Report claimed that the main cause was unemployment, and 72 percent declared lack of affordable housing. Homeless shelters will soon become overcrowded as more families are losing their homes. These are working families. They just don’t have the resources to put a roof over their head.

Families experiencing homelessness are under considerable stress. They move frequently and many are doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. Once in shelter, families must quickly adjust to overcrowded, difficult, and uncomfortable circumstances. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff, many shelters are noisy, chaotic, and lack privacy. Homelessness increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve, which may compound the stress the family feels.

http://www.familyhomelessness.org/media/306.pdf

And yet so many the resources that are spent on the chronic homeless overlook families that are left to fend for themselves. On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $1.5 billion for a Homelessness Prevention Fund. Funding for this program included the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) that was designed to assist families facing homelessness.

HPRP ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

The first step in any HPRP program is determining if a household applying for HPRP assistance is eligible to receive assistance under HPRP. In order to receive HPRP-funded Financial Assistance and/or Housing Relocation and Stabilization Services, households must meet at least the following minimum criteria:

1. Initial Consultation & Eligibility Determination: the household must receive at least an initial consultation and eligibility assessment with a case manager or other authorized representative who can determine eligibility and the appropriate type of assistance needed;

2. Income: the household’s total income must be at or below 50 percent of Area Median Income.

3. Housing Status: the household must be either homeless (to receive rapid re-housing assistance) OR at risk of losing its housing. (to receive homelessness prevention assistance)

AND must meet the following circumstances:

a. No appropriate subsequent housing options have been identified;

b. The household lacks the financial resources to obtain immediate housing or remain in its existing housing; and

c. The household lacks support networks needed to obtain immediate housing or remain in its existing housing.

The criteria listed above are the minimum criteria set forth by HUD to determine eligibility for HPRP.  But HUD encourages grantees to examine local needs to determine if additional risk factors or other determinants should be used to determine eligibility.

Because HUD encourages grantees to use additional factors to determine eligibility, many families may not get assistance; even though they meet all of HUD’s requirements.

Living independently can be a lot harder for chronic homeless

Apartment life doesn’t last long for some accustomed to life on the street. A man similar to Mark Rettele was placed in an apartment that was a quick walk from a liquor store. The man resumed drinking and while taking a shower, he passed out in the tub. A building manager found him and called 911. So the caseworker came up with a different plan: an assisted-living center where drinking is not allowed. The man now has a roommate, eats community meals and is trying to stay sober. But just last month a reporter driving downtown on Leavenworth Street spotted him outside slumped on the sidewalk, and leaning against a building.

I have personally witnessed this same type of behavior in friends and family members who struggle with addiction. Some my wife and I have taken into our home when they were facing homelessness. Sadly, in most cases, the addict will return to the street rather than get sober.

Some of the chronic homeless helped by the 100,000 Homes program may try to change but it won’t be easy. In the three months that Mark Rettele has lived at his apartment on South 25th Street, he has endured a near-eviction and a break-in. Many longtime homeless people such as Rettele, who built friendships on the streets, want to help their friends and invite them in. But in Rettele’s case, Rice said, she had to tell him it was either keep your apartment to yourself or go join your friends on the street. Rettele is working on that problem. He told his friends, “You have to leave.” Rettele said.  “I’m not here to take care of everyone.”

I only wish that more families could get assistance from programs like HPRP and the 100,000 Homes program, but I guess it only proves that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Because while the chronic homeless may be the most visible and have the greatest impact on downtown businesses and services; the homeless families have become invisible – and yet you see them every day – in the grocery store; at the gas station; and at your children’s school.

For more information about homeless families visit http://www.familyhomelessness.org/

(Some of the information reprinted with permission from WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER Erin Grace) http://www.omaha.com/article/20120213/NEWS01/702139945

It’s always recommended to get a bumper-to-bumper inspection of our vehicles at least once a year right before winter; from checking the antifreeze and brakes, to batteries and wiper blades. It’s also recommended to do a checklist to winterize our homes including: having the furnace checked by a service technician, replacing the air filter, clearing obstacles to heating vents, and insulating doors, windows, and exposed water pipes.

This time of year many of us begin our yearly chore of going through our closets and exchanging our summer clothes for our warmer winter apparel. Some of us may even opt to purchase new winter coats in anticipation of the approaching cold season.

So what should we do to winterize the homeless?

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, seven hundred people experiencing or at risk of homelessness die from hypothermia annually in the United States. Forty-four percent of the nation’s homeless are unsheltered. From the urban streets of our populated cities to the remote back-country of rural America, hypothermia – or subnormal temperature in the body – remains a leading, critical and preventable cause of injury and death among those experiencing homelessness.

Hypothermia does not occur only when the ambient temperature becomes very cold.  Wind and precipitation, which lower the perceived temperature, can cause the body to lose heat more quickly.  Wet clothing causes a 20-fold increase in heat loss, and wet clothing in cold weather can cause heat to be lost 32 times faster.  Adequate clothing, including hats and mittens, helps prevent hypothermia by creating a static layer of warm air, keeping the skin dry, and creating a barrier against the wind. Hats are especially crucial: up to 50% of a person’s body heat can be lost through an uncovered head.  Inadequate clothing is also a risk factor for frostbite.  Additional risk factors for hypothermia include malnutrition, decreased body fat, underlying infection, lack of fitness, fatigue, inadequate shelter and heat, and other pre-existing medical conditions. Infants and elderly people are particularly vulnerable.  Other risk factors for frostbite include diabetes, smoking, and the presence of an infected wound.

Many of these risk factors are common among the homeless population.  Due to the circumstances of life on the streets, many homeless people do not have hats, gloves, or other clothing necessary for cold weather, and do not have extra outfits to change into when their clothing becomes wet.  Many homeless people are not able to eat full or healthy meals and, as a result, suffer from malnutrition.  People experiencing homelessness are three to six times more likely to become ill than housed people. (National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2008)

Homelessness itself is associated with higher levels of hypothermia-related death. Relatively few people die directly from hypothermia. However, people who are homeless often have nowhere to go when the temperature drops.  Even those who seek shelter and are allowed to enter a homeless shelter are frequently turned back onto the streets during the day. The homeless population is at greatly increased risk for hypothermia and other cold-related conditions. Many of the homeless service providers in Omaha are open 24 hours each day during the year when the temperature falls below 40o F.

World Herald Staff Writer, Erin Grace, reported in her March 2010 article that the number of homeless people in the Omaha metropolitan area grew this year by 13 percent. The rise in the homeless population comes at a time when agencies are increasing housing options and launching programs to prevent homelessness funded by federal stimulus dollars.

Harsh winters are seen as a partial driver of the high numbers, but shelters such as the Siena-Francis House in Omaha had already seen an increase before the first flurries fell last winter.

“I saw more people losing jobs or having hours cut to the point where they just couldn’t sustain the housing,” said Mike Saklar, director of Siena-Francis House, at 1702 Nicholas St. January numbers, he said, were “off the charts.”

The 341-bed shelter housed an average of 473 people in January of 2010 and 468 people in February, up from 405 and 395, respectively, for those months in 2009. On Jan. 27, 491 people stayed at Siena-Francis House. An additional 10 people were counted outdoors; six in tents and four in cars at the shelter. Temperatures that day ranged from 16 to 27 degrees.

Now, helping missions overseas is commendable and I encourage everyone who is able, to get involved in missionary work in other countries. But there is also a great mission field right here in our own backyard. And although writing a check for a generous donation to one of the many homeless shelters is also commendable, (and I encourage it) maybe sometimes God doesn’t want us to just send money; maybe He wants us to go and get personally involved.

We all know that weather can be extremely difficult to predict. Another cold winter could be deadly for someone living on the streets. Far too long we have ignored the homeless and made them the invisible community. I challenge everyone reading this to go out and get to know these people struggling with poverty and homelessness. You’ll be surprised to find out that they’re not that different than you and I. They have hopes and dreams of a better life for their children. They are doing the best they can in this economy to care for their loved ones.

I would encourage people to visit one of your local homeless shelters and find out where they could use your help. Talk to them about starting a winter clothing drive. There is so much we can do to help the homeless community that doesn’t take much effort, time, or money.

A few years ago my wife and I started a holiday tradition of collecting hats and gloves and handing them out to the homeless in our area. With winter fast approaching, area homeless shelters will need your support more than ever. Contact the shelters to donate your winter clothing and other items they may need. Most shelters are always looking for volunteers. Look to your homeless shelters for volunteer opportunities. I listed addresses, phone numbers, and websites below. Please help and get involved.

Remember Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40)

Emergency Shelters Near Omaha, Ne:

OPEN DOOR MISSION   http://www.opendoormission.org/

2706 N 21 St E, Omaha NE . . . . . . . 402-422-1111

MICAH HOUSE   http://www.themicahhouse.org/

1415 Ave J, Council Bluffs IA. . . (712) 323-4416

SIENA/FRANCIS HOUSE   http://www.sienafrancis.org/

1702 Nicholas St, Omaha NE . . . . . . 402-342-1821

STEPHEN CENTER   http://www.stephencenter.org/

2723 Q St, Omaha NE . . . . . . . . . . . 402-731-0238

MOHMS Place Joshua House   http://www.mohmsplace.org/

1435 15 St. Council Bluffs IA. . (712) 322-7570

PHOENIX HOUSE

Victims of domestic abuse (confidential location)

Council Bluffs IA . . . . . . . . . . . (712) 328-0266

Toll-free . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (888) 612-0266

THE SHELTER

Victims of domestic abuse (confidential location)

Omaha NE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 402-558-5700

SAFE HAVEN

Victims of domestic abuse (confidential location)

Sarpy County NE . . . . . . . . . . 402- 292-5888

Toll-free . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-800-523-3666

Tonight is going to be cold…very, very, cold.

Forecasters are predicting wind chills down to -30 degrees.

At those temperatures, exposed skin can begin getting frostbitten within about 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

Although I made sure to wrap myself in several layers of clothes underneath my hooded parka and heavy overcoat, I shivered as I trudged through the snow down my driveway to collect the empty garbage can that was left in the street.

As I brushed off the snow from my pants onto the rug in my entryway and removed my wet shoes I began to wonder what would happen to the homeless tonight? How could anyone survive cold like this? How many homeless will die tonight?

Fortunately in Omaha there are many organizations who try their best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Mike Saklar, executive director of the Siena-Francis House, said
“We’ve had a frostbite case almost every day for the past week,” he said. “I’m hopeful that everybody will be safe, that they seek shelter and nobody gets stuck outside.”

He spoke to local reporters of a woman in her mid-30s who arrived at the shelter without a coat and wearing only one shoe.

“She was so frozen she couldn’t talk, just shivered terribly,” Saklar said. The woman had black spots on her feet and legs, a sign of severe frostbite.

Saklar said she was taken to the hospital, where she was bandaged, and then returned to the shelter before being transferred to Catholic Charities for additional care.

Last Friday brought a man with fingers so severely frostbitten that they couldn’t be saved, Saklar said.

People who would like to assist local shelters can donate coats, gloves, scarves and other winter gear. The Siena-Francis House, at 1702 Nicholas St., can also use paper products, such as toilet paper, he said.

Saklar said the shelter has been running over capacity. It has 340 beds but took in 450 people Tuesday.

“Our doors are open 24 hours a day, we don’t turn people away,” Saklar said. “This kind of weather is so dangerous.”

As the temperature continues to drop and the wind picks up many organizations that specialize in helping others are gearing up as well.

Thousands of people in the metro area are receiving help and there never seems to be enough volunteers or materials.

But they’ve become experts at stretching every dollar.

The Open Door Mission is looking at serving around 2,000 meals and Chef Claudzell Meeks at the Mission has to stretch every item.

Over in the clothing store, workers gear up for an onslaught of people in need of warm clothing.

“Everyday somebody walks in off the street needing a coat, gloves, hat, scarves, mittens those type of things,” Cris Morris said. “And today in the blizzard conditions, desperate need for those kind of things.”

Beside clothing, space heathers and blankets will be in demand.

At the Sienna-Francis House, John Kelly is preparing for the evening’s overflow crowd of people needing a place to sleep.

“The programmers that are working on the desk; they take care of making the setups, the blankets the sheets, the pillow cases for the guys that come in at night when they check in,” he said.

Chairs and even the floor will be used but around 450 people will have a warm place to sleep.

“In the time that I’ve been here we have yet to turn anybody away,” Chris Eynon said. “We’ll find a spot. Every nook and cranny in this place gets a person in it.”

Staff members regularly walk the grounds at the Sienna-Francis House every hour to make sure no one is stuck outside. But they will extend that perimeter at night when its brutally cold and they may just save someone’s life.

Eynon said during his three years at the Sienna-Francis House, at least two people who could have frozen to death have been found near the shelter.

So tonight as we sit inside our warm houses, watching our favorite program on our big screen plasma TV, let’s try to remember those in our community who are the most vulnerable on these bitterly cold nights.

We may not be able to save everyone by ourselves but by donating our time and resources to local shelters and other organizations who help the homeless we can do are part to change someone’s life.

We can’t change the world, but everyone has a world contained within them. And when you change one person’s life, you’ve changed the world for that one person.

We won’t see a large change in the homeless in a community until we change the community’s opinion about homelessness.

For more information about local shelters click the links below.

http://www.opendoormission.org/

http://www.stephencenter.org/

http://www.themicahhouse.org/

http://www.macchomeless.org/

The Omaha recall election took a surprising turn last week. A group opposed to the recall, sent buses to local homeless shelters offering residents a job and a chance to vote.

On Wednesday several of the local media including KMTV Action 3 News talked to many people at the Siena /Francis House who were on the bus with Forward Omaha. Those on the bus say they were specifically told to not to talk to the media about what went on inside the bus.

“I guess they just walked in there and said who wants five bucks? I don’t know how it happened or how it started, all I saw was people getting off the bus,”  Brad Polchow, the Siena-Francis House manager said.

Forward Omaha, the anti-recall group is accused of targeting the homeless for votes in the final days to register to vote in the special election. Forward Omaha came to the Siena-Francis house in a school bus offering people five dollars to participate in the “get the vote out” training. They then took them in the bus to go get registered. Some of them even cast an early ballot.

Some of the homeless on the bus told KMTV reporter, Hannah Pickett that they didn’t even know who Mayor Jim Suttle was. The manager of the Sienna-Francis house said the residents don’t care. “If you offer a homeless person five bucks to go on a bus… they’re going to go on the bus.” He said.

Forward Omaha justifies its actions by saying it’s important to get all people out there to vote. Forward Omaha says they did nothing wrong, insisting they were paying to train people, not paying for votes. The group said it plans to hire some of the trainees at ten dollars an hour for help on election day.

Forward Omaha believes that what they did was completely legal and insists that they offered people training. They didn’t have to vote. They didn’t have to vote the way we wanted them to. Forward Omaha also says they plan to continue these efforts of busing people to polling places and offering them money to train them to work election day for the rest of the week.

The actions of Forward Omaha may be legal but I question if they’re ethical. And I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The Omaha World Herald reported that when campaign workers called the Open Door Mission and asked if they could load up homeless people and drive them to the election office — with the promise of $5 and a job — they were told “no” two days in a row.

It appeared to be an attempt to “exploit” the homeless and it was wrong, said Candace Gregory, head of the Open Door Mission.

The refusals, however, didn’t stop Forward Omaha from sending three buses to the homeless shelter last Wednesday and loading up about 10 men before a staff member with the shelter intervened, Gregory said.

“Our program director did go on the bus and explain to the men that this was actually unethical and inappropriate, and you shouldn’t be told you’re going to get something for voting,” said Gregory.

Gregory said she also questioned the campaign’s promise of a job. The homeless people were told they could receive $10 an hour canvassing neighborhoods if they successfully completed a training program. “In my opinion, they would not be candidates for going door-to-door in our community,” Gregory said of the shelter clients who were solicited.

The Open Door Mission was the second shelter to become entangled in the controversy. Three busloads of homeless people were picked up at the Siena-Francis House, a shelter north of downtown, and taken to the election office.

Since then both shelters have been fielding angry calls from supporters who believed that the shelters were somehow involved with Forward Omaha’s bussing program. That could not be further from the truth.

The incident has caused problems for both the Siena-Francis House and the Open Door Mission. Shelter directors stressed that they objected to the bus rides and that, as nonprofits, their organizations don’t take a position on political issues.

Gregory, at the Open Door Mission, said it was clear Forward Omaha was asking the homeless people to vote against the recall. The campaign handed out fliers to the homeless people that clearly urged voting “no” and included a sample ballot with the “no” marked.

“I strongly agree they have the right to vote, but not in this circumstance, where they’re told to ‘Vote this way and you get this (money),’” said Gregory, who noted the mission provides its clients with transportation to polling places on Election Day.

She also said many of the homeless people did not make the distinction that the $5 was payment to attend a training seminar. Some thought they’d get the money if they voted.

A week after the incident Mike Saklar, Executive Director of the Siena/Francis House still had to spend a good portion of his day trying to repair the damage that Forward Omaha had done. Including sending mass emails like the one below:

January 17, 2010

Dear Jonah,

As I mentioned, previously, local media have been reporting about the fact that a group opposing the effort to recall Omaha Mayor, Jim Suttle – Forward Omaha – transported homeless persons from outside the Siena/Francis House’s day services center to the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s Office last Wednesday, January 12th.  Unfortunately, some of the early media reports implied that the Siena/Francis House was somehow involved in this effort.  This is absolutely and unequivocally not true.

As a friend and supporter of our shelter and of the homeless families and individuals we serve, I would like to update with you a number of points regarding the actions of this group, which are:

* I did not authorize or support, nor did I have any prior knowledge of Forward Omaha’s actions.

* We do not bus homeless persons to or from polling places.

* The first time that I learned of this effort was when I was contacted by a media outlet that same afternoon, after it had already occurred.

* The Siena/Francis House is a non-profit, charitable organization with a mission of providing food, shelter and clothing to our community’s homeless families and individuals.  We do not participate in – nor have ever participated in – politics, including the recent effort to recall Omaha’s mayor.

* Siena/Francis House policy prohibits our organization from engaging in political activities, of any sort.  The Siena/Francis House’s By-Laws clearly state that our organization “shall not participate in or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”  Our organization strictly adheres to this policy.

* I view this action by Forward Omaha as an exploitation of the homeless persons we serve, and I wholeheartedly condemn it.

And, as before, I regret having to share this information in this manner, but feel compelled to do so, in order to clarify the fact that the Siena/Francis House had absolutely no role in Forward Omaha’s actions.

Please know that I very much welcome your thoughts and feedback on this or any matter, related to the homeless.

Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to share this information with you.

Mike Saklar

Executive Director

Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter

The Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) had to spend much of their time trying to repair the damage as well and sent the following mass email:

MACCH members, board members and staff have been watching and talking about the local actions by Forward Omaha to recruit people experiencing homelessness for the anti-recall campaign.  Overwhelmingly, our collective stance is that all people, with and without homes, should have the opportunity to express themselves through voting and through other political means, and on issues of their choosing. This is why area homeless providers welcome voter registration efforts through the year.  In contrast, methods perceived as coercive or manipulative of vulnerable people, by dangling cash or implying employment is unacceptable.

It is regrettable that some of our caring and generous supporters of homeless services have misperceived the shelters actions.  They may have not realized that shelter providers actually tried to prevent this perceived manipulation of people using their shelters during a housing emergency.  The resulting fallout has been harsh and hurtful toward people in homelessness.

Some of these people expressed feeling misled when employment opportunities with the election did not pan out, opportunities they hoped would help end their homelessness.

Some shelters received angry calls from supporters who thought shelters did not try to prevent this brazen tactic.  Those angered, vowed to cease further support of shelters.  What a mess of a misguided strategy that back fired in so many ways, most painfully experienced by our neighbors, many very ill with a housing crisis;  a desperate time in their lives.

Solidly, our homeless service providers are committed to support to right to vote and will facilitate the continuance of that right by welcoming efforts free from coercive tactics.

Erin Porterfield, LCSW

Executive Director

MACCH

(Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless)

115 S. 49 Ave.

Omaha, NE 68132

Suttle has spent a lot of time the past few days trying to put out all the fires that erupted after the controversy broke.

In addition to apologizing to homeless shelters, Suttle made some changes to his campaign staff. He put a new person in charge of Forward Omaha to monitor all campaign activity until Election Day.

Suttle has called it a “mistake” and a “conflict of interest” to pay the homeless people to attend a training seminar on the same day they were bused to the polls. He said that he did not know about it beforehand and that it would not be repeated.

Noelle Obermeyer, a spokesman for Forward Omaha, said the person who called the Open Door Mission was a volunteer. She said the volunteer did not tell anyone in a leadership position in the organization that the mission had rejected the request. She also said the fliers distributed were not produced by Forward Omaha and were not handed out with the organization’s approval.  “Leadership didn’t know about these things,” Obermeyer  said.

But some of the damage has already been done.

For decades politicians have used the excuse, “I did not know that” or “I don’t recall that” or “It was a mistake.”   For someone in leadership who says they did not know what was going on sends a message that they are either lying or they are incompetent.

I once worked for a company where I was in charge of 70 people on a production line. If any of those people ever did anything that was unethical or against company policy or illegal I would be held responsible. But in politics it’s more of about excuses than accepting responsibility.

Forward Omaha regrets how the situation unfolded but said the committee’s intent was simply to provide transportation to people who wanted to vote.

I wonder where these people were (who were so concerned with the homeless vote) when area shelters had clothing and food drives. I wonder where the buses were when the homeless needed rides to clinics and other appointments.

To make matters worse, Douglas County Election Commissioner David Phipps said three people who had cast early votes called his office, wanting to change their minds.

They made it clear they had voted to retain Suttle but now wanted to switch their vote. Once a vote is cast, however, it cannot be taken back, Phipps said.

Because of the damage done by the actions of Forward Omaha, as shocking as it may seem, I would encourage people to be even more diligent in your supporting area homeless shelters now.

In many cases these shelters are a person’s last hope of returning to a normal life. And the workers at the shelters cannot help the homeless community without your support.

News stories from Action 3 News, Omaha World Herald, and WOWT included in this article.

Links to more news :

http://www.action3news.com/Global/story.asp?S=13834559

http://www.action3news.com/Global/story.asp?S=13858282

http://www.wowt.com/home/headlines/Suttle_Supporters_Bus_Homelss_To_Vote__113390539.html

http://www.omaha.com/article/20110113/NEWS01/110119828/276

Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) recently announced sponsorship of Omaha’s National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. The goal of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, is to strengthen the national endeavor to end hunger and homelessness nationwide. Locally, the week will raise awareness of homelessness and promote the community’s commitment to ending homelessness. MACCH will sponsor the effort in the Omaha metro area.

“Last month, our community collected data from 471 people experiencing homelessness in our metro area and we found that 176 of those individuals are at risk of dying as a result of their homelessness. Solutions such as permanent housing with case management exist. It’s time the rest of our community know about those solutions in order to end this crisis,” states Erin Porterfield, executive director of MACCH. Opportunities to participate in promoting the community’s commitment to ending homelessness include various events scheduled for the week of Nov. 14.

Schedule of Events:

November 17, 2010 South High Magnet’s Character in Action group is challenging groups throughout Omaha to spend, “One Night Without a Home” at Collin Stadium located at 2202 S. M St. Starting at 7pm, there will be a panel of speakers that will educate the group on hunger and homelessness in the Omaha metro area. South High Magnet is also organizing a clothing drive to benefit. All donations may be dropped off at Collin Stadium the night of the event. Contact: Matthew Curtis at: matthew.curtis@ops.org or (402) 557-3657.

November 18, 2010 The Metro Area Homeless Youth Forum will be presented by the MACCH Youth Task Force from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. at the UNO Alumni Center. This forum will unveil results of the research from the MACCH Youth Task Force regarding the first count of homeless and unstably-housed youth in the metro area. Contact Heather Rizzino at: heathersview@msn.com or (402) 990-0579.

Mission for All Nations will be hosting a Mobile Food Pantry in Papillion from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., with a short volunteer education beforehand. Contact  Chelsea Hardymon at: chelseah@missionfan.com or (402) 733-1904.

“Omaha Rocks!  A Benefit for the Homeless” is a concert featuring The Bishops, the Todd Campbell Project, The Jacuzzi Brother, and more will be held at 7 p.m. at the Slowdown. The $10 charged at the door will provide household items for homeless individual people moving into their own homes. The event will also showcase the Siena Francis House Singers and artwork from Siena Francis clients, Chris Leet and Jerry Neal. Contact: Sarah Rounds, srounds@heartlandfamilyservice.org or (402) 553-3000.

November 19, 2010 Together, Inc. will be hosting a “Holiday Resource Lunch & Learn” at their headquarters, 1616 Cass Street. At the 11:30 a.m. lunch for Human Resource professionals, a panel of human service agencies will share the holiday programs that are available through them to the community. Contact Erin Stoll at: estoll@togetheromaha.org or (402) 345-8047, x205.

November 20, 2010 The Open Door Mission will be delivering 5,000 “Turkey n’ Fixin’s” to low income families in the Omaha community. There will be approximately 800 volunteers delivering the goods to families and homes. Contact Charity Watts at: cwatts@opendoormission.org or (402) 422-1111.