Posts Tagged ‘Services’

Among the many challenges poor and homeless Americans often face is access to clean drinking water and restroom facilities. Add to that the public misconception that the homeless and poor are either lazy, addicted to drugs and alcohol, have some sort of mental illness, or all of the above, and you have a prescription for personal failure. Denial of basic needs like access to clean drinking water violates international human rights standards, according to a report issued by a United Nations investigator earlier this year.

A United Nations Special Reporter on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation visited the United States in late February, 2011 at the invitation of the U.S. government and it was discovered that  homeless individuals around the country not only struggle to access running water and restroom facilities but increasingly face criminal and civil sanctions when they improvise solutions.

The right to safe drinking water and restroom facilities is a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The U.N. report’s findings detail just a few of the ways that U.S. cities and counties are failing to meet these obligations because of how they deal with homelessness.

Although the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that homelessness grew very little between 2009 and 2010, their report shows that there were still 700,000 individuals in the U.S. who were homeless. This number is a less than accurate total since many of the homeless make sure that they are not found by volunteers who perform the count. The HUD report found that the share of families who lack a place to sleep continued to grow during the recession. The elevated unemployment rate and the large number of foreclosures have increased demand for services to the poor and homeless but city and state budget problems have led to a reduction in those services. As a result, many communities are confronting an increasingly visible homeless population forced to sleep in city parks or take up residence in one of a growing number of tent cities.

Some cities have begun to regulate tent cities and in many cities, developers, businesses, and city councils have clashed with the homeless. Some have even encouraged police to issue tickets for violations such as sleeping in public and loitering. Others have begun shutting off the water supply to nearby water fountains and locking or removing public restroom facilities in an effort to discourage homeless individuals and families from taking shelter in the growing tent cities.

Rather than doing good things like providing more housing, more shelter, and more assistance, cities are using current laws and ordinances, normally not enforced, to push the homeless problem out of view.

In Omaha, where I live, community leaders as well as the police department do much to alleviate the struggles of the poor and homeless. But in many other cities the people who are supposed to be helping the homeless are the very ones who work against them.

An article that was written by a homeless blogger in NYC wrote in his blog, of the same name, that homeless people are treated just like criminals. He goes on to describe his personal experience with a homeless shelter in Manhattan. “At the corner of the building hangs a sign pointing to the entrance: ‘Intake and Vagrancy Control’ it reads. Upon entering all items must be removed from pockets, belts and watches removed and put in trays for x-ray. Then the ‘clients’ (as residents are duplicitously called) pass through a metal detector and are whisked with a wand if anything beeps. A combination of DHS, (Department of Homeless Services) police, and rent-a cops patrol every inch of the place and one is never out of the view of security at any time, except when in a bunk room – but the bunk rooms have no locks or latches. “You watch your s*t here, boy”, said a guard to me. “We’ve got crooks and scammers and pimps and drug runners and more in here. You watch your s*t all the time!” he said in regard to anything I might be carrying. It applies to your behavior as well.”

The writer is a 55 year old white male with a university degree, decent clothing, and a nice looking watch, and basically a target for anyone who wants a buck, a cigarette, or a new piece of whatever he owns. He has had two sweaters stolen after having mistakenly left them out to dry on top of his locker after a light rain.

He says that “the homeless (of which there are two for over 400 residents in this shelter) are routinely yelled at, barked at and told to “line up single file” for the elevator, sign in before 10pm to reserve your bed, and then be in that bed, at precisely 10 – or you will lose the bed and be booted out of the facility, not to return for at least 30 days.”

In many homeless shelters across the country residents are forced to see a case worker who is assigned to help, but in a lot of cases what they do is evaluate them. The institutional logic here is plain and simple: If you are homeless, there must be something wrong with you. Not with the system, not with the economy, not with the law. Millions of people get by without accessing the social services in the US and if you have to, then there must be something wrong with you. The system has the right to have you psychologically evaluated, and if you decline the invitation you will simply be booted out – and denied all manner of public assistance including food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid. (In an insane world, only the sane man is thought to be insane)

Although there are many social workers who work diligently and honestly to help the poor and homeless, the system in many cities only serves to promote the perception that something is wrong with them and they must be watched carefully. After all, it’s tax payer money at work here. Ironically, it is somehow ignored that many of these homeless people have worked hard most of their lives and have previously paid those same taxes.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is planning a series of cases to challenge ordinances that criminalize activities — such as using the restroom, sleeping or accessing water — that cannot be avoided or handled in private if a person is homeless. These laws violate international standards and amount to what a U.N. investigator said was cruel and unusual punishment.

And where is the Church in all of this? Should not the Church be the ones to lead the fight against homelessness? If what was done to the homeless in cities across the country were done to the victims of tornados, fires, and earthquakes, there would be an outcry from the religious community as never before. It doesn’t matter how a person became homeless. They remain homeless just the same until they are allowed the basic necessities that most of us take for granted.

Unfortunately, for the most part, the Church has the same misconception about the homeless as the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s not so much alcohol and drugs that brought some to be homeless; maybe it was being homeless that brought some to abuse alcohol and drugs.

Yes, it’s true that Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.” But neither did He suggest that we sit back and do nothing while the government does the job that He has called us to do. How can we expect the poor to break free from their poverty mindset when we treat them as less than human? Remember that Jesus also said, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”


As Hurricane Irene barreled its way up the eastern coast of the U.S., it brought with it brutal gale-force winds, torrential rains and massive flooding of low-lying areas. This comes on the heels of the August 23rd earthquake on the East Coast that unnerved some New Yorkers but did limited damage.

The hurricane that smashed into New Orleans and surrounding area has become immortalized in songs and books and on the evening news. The storm (and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans) killed at least 1,800 people, made tens of thousands homeless, and raised the ire of a public who were outraged by the slow response of both state and federal officials to the crisis.

In the beginning of 2010 a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of the victims still share makeshift camps where they live in one-room “T-Shelters” that are not much more than a tent. There are hundreds of these camps in Haiti, and all of them lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. A March study by the agencies noted that: Only 48 percent of the camp residents had daily access to an adequate supply of potable water; Only 61 percent of that water had the correct amount of chlorine, meaning that it runs the risk of being contaminated by and transmitting cholera; On average, 112 people had to share a single camp latrine; Only 18 percent of camps had hand-washing facilities; and only 29 percent of camps had a disposal system for solid waste.  Although it’s no longer making international headlines, the cholera menace still looms large here. Over 300 people are hospitalized each day, and as of Aug. 8, 2011, 426,285 people had been infected and at least 6,169 have died.

The ongoing tragedy arising from the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan in March 2011 not only killed 9,000 people and left more than 13,000 missing, but also it created an unprecedented radiation emergency when the plants at Fukushima-Daichi were damaged. More than 200,000 people had to be evacuated from the vicinity of the plants. A few months later on June 8, 2011 a devastating tornado destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and killed 145 people in Joplin, Missouri, leaving neighborhoods in ruins.

So are these just random coincidences? Or is God really trying to tell us something? Evangelist Pat Robertson said the earthquake in Virginia was a sign that we’re closer to the second coming. But he’s also the one who said Haiti suffered its earthquake because they made a pact with the devil.  And he’s the one who said Hurricane Katrina was a result of legalized abortions. Evangelist Jerry Falwell (now deceased) had the nerve to say that the 9-11 terrorist attacks was God punishing our country for homosexuality and feminism.

While some have said that we’ve infuriated God with our gluttony and our wicked, sinful ways, others insist that we should just stop overreacting. And that these preachers can only be described as spiritual bullies. They ridicule them and say, as  Tracy Simmons, editor of, wrote in her online column, CT@Prayer, ” If I’m worshiping a God who sweeps people off the Earth into the ocean to get a message across, then I must be the one who’s confused because I always thought God was a big-picture kinda’ guy.”

God is a big-picture kinda’ guy. As it turns out, I think people are the ones who refuse to see the ‘Big Picture.’  Although it is true that those who do not believe in God nor obey His commands stand condemned by God’s own standards; this is not because they have not believed. It is because they have transgressed against that which they knew to be right. God is not the cause of people’s doom. He is the way out of it!  “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”   2 Peter 3:9

During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, individual lives were being shattered, catastrophe had come into homes. People were taken to the land of Babylon and placed in a concentration camp. It was a time of great despair. As we go through the scriptures we find that the Old Testament people of God – more often than not – were under false assurances. They had deluded themselves on many occasions, and when the prophets came to the people with the message from God, all they did was protest. It seemed to go against their lifestyle, everything they held dear. The prophets of God that came to them were a threat.

Today we hear those same protests: “God will not judge us. He has promised to bless us.” All the prophets of the Bible were preachers of repentance. That probably accounts for why most of them were martyred, including the last great prophet, John the Baptist, who lost his head because he was a preacher who stood up for God – when no one else was – and cried: “Repent!” What often happens when people do not repent is, in order for God to drive us to that holy act of repentance, he must first discipline us.

The news media is very good at reporting on all of these disasters and inspire some to point a finger at God and paint Him as some type of heavenly dictator who is out to get revenge on those who don’t obey him. But in reality God only wants what’s best for us – even if it causes pain in the process. There have been some great results from the disasters that the media seems reluctant to report about.

Churches in Haiti now overflow with worshippers, including thousands of people who accepted the Lord after the earthquake there. Though the disaster drove many people to churches out of fear, effective witnessing and discipleship is helping transform that fear into living faith. The slums of Cite Soleil, situated on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, are now alive with song as believers gather in groups of 50 to 200 under tattered tarps and tin-roofed canopies to worship Jesus Christ. Many lost virtually everything in the quake, but their faith made them joyful and strong. A young pastor leads a group of women from his church on afternoon prayer walks along the rutted, dirt roads of Titanyen. They stop and pray along the way, extending their arms toward homes that were often in ruins. “We pray in front of every house, asking for God to bless and comfort the people of our town,” Pastor Merete said. “We thank God for sparing us. Now we need His help to rebuild our lives.”

During the devastating tornado that ripped through Joplin, Mo. several churches were destroyed. The ones that survived quickly became shelters and gathering spots for neighbors, friends and loved ones to reunite. Almost instantly churches of different denominations from across the country stepped up to aid the people in Missouri bringing a fresh renewal to the people there.

If we look hard enough we can find God’s blessings because of the disasters, not in spite of them. People tend to turn to God in times of despair and tragedy.  I believe that is God’s plan.  All through the Bible we can read how God used either Israel’s enemies or natural disasters to discipline His people and bring them back to Himself. I don’t believe that has changed.

Let me make myself perfectly clear; I do not believe that all of the natural disasters are the result of a particular sin in a particular place or people. But we cannot put God into a box. We do that sometimes, don’t we? We cannot limit God geographically either. We confine the experience of God to particular places or locations and you can’t do that! You can’t confine Him to a place, whether it is a church or a city or a country. When we say, “‘God cannot do this.” or, “God must do this” – when we place God into our little theological A-B-C, we can miss God’s lesson for us; because sometimes sin will affect his people around the world. Look at the recent violent flash mobs in the U.K. and America. How many innocent people have been affected by the violent acts of others in recent years?

Radio personality Glenn Beck recently declared that Hurricane Irene was a “blessing.” He touts the strong storm lashing on the East Coast of the United States as a harbinger to warn Americans to be prepared for anything and to stock up food. I’m sure that the families devastated by the deaths of their loved ones caused by the storm don’t see it as a blessing anymore than the victims in Haiti, Japan, or Joplin, Missouri do.

Many are wondering what in the world is going on with a rare earthquake hitting the East Coast only to be followed by a hurricane a few days later. Occasionally God really does shake things up as a sign to us of the consequences of disobedience and indifference to our Creator. When people become desperate to find someone who has a vision of the future, sometimes the loud media personalities get the most attention.

There is plenty of suffering to go around; from severe flooding, hurricanes, drought, wildfires and economic insecurity. Instead of shouting about how we need to prepare for the retribution of an angry God we need to humble ourselves, and pray, and seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways; then we will hear from heaven, and God will forgive our sin, and heal our land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

We need to remember that sin does not affect only one or two individuals. When a person commits the sin of murder it not only affects the perpetrator and the victim, but it also affects the friends and families of both. Any sin always creates a ripple effect that in one way or another affects the lives of many. For those who don’t believe this,  just think of how the sin of greed on Wall Street has affected so many. And think of how the sin of murder affected so many lives for decades when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Yes, I really believe that we are all accountable to a sovereign God, and if we ignore His laws and disobey His commandments, there is a price to pay. God is trying to get our attention but are we listening? What will it take? Will our world have to be turned upside down before we recognize what’s happening? Would even that be enough?

On Sunday, March 6th, 60 Minutes aired a segment about the impact the recession has had on families and children. It featured the efforts of Seminole County Schools’ homeless education program and its school district homeless liaison, Beth Davalos.

After the program aired Seminole County was inundated with calls from people asking how they could help. Although this has been an enormous problem in our country for years, most people were shocked to find out that this was going on in a country so rich with resources.
I was shocked to hear that so many people were unaware of the homeless problem among youth and school children.

Do we still hold to the stereotype that homeless people are lazy, drug addicts living off of our tax dollars?

Could it be that so many of us are so wrapped up in our own little world of iPhones, Kindels, and plasma TVs that those who struggle with day to day necessities become invisible to us?

National statistics report the number of homeless kids at more than 1.5 million. More than 500 thousand are still under the age of 15, and some are as young as nine!

As responsible people we should try to reach these kids! We should try and try again. And if we commit ourselves to stepping out of our comfort zone to help just one homeless family we may never know, that a few years from now, a youngster was able to leave the streets because of the commitment and work we did today.

The single greatest need, for homeless and street kids is our continuous caring and real support. We must convince them that we care, and we want to help them get off the streets. Don’t give up. They need us!

13 homeless youth die every day!

How Many Children and Youth Experience Homelessness?
Final national numbers for the 2008-2009 school year have not yet been compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the most recent federal data, in the 2008-2009 school year, 954,914 homeless children and youth were enrolled in public schools.

This is a 20 percent increase from the 2007-2008 school year, and a 41% increase from the 2006-2007 school year. It is important to note that this number is not an exact estimate of child and youth homelessness; in fact, it is an underestimate, because not all school districts reported data to the U.S. Department of Education, and because the data collected represents only those children identified and enrolled in school.

Finally, the number does not include all preschool-age children, or any infants and toddlers. The economic downturn and foreclosure crisis have had a significant impact on homelessness: according to a national survey, one in five responding school districts reported having more homeless children in the Fall of 2008 than over the course of the entire 2007-2008 school year.

Recent research indicates that child homelessness may be more widespread than school data suggests. A study published in the August 2009 edition of the American Journal of Public Health found that seven percent of fifth-graders and their families have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

How Does Homelessness Affect Children and Youth’s Education?
With life filled with such uncertainty and loss, school should be a place of safety, structure, and opportunity. Yet homeless children and youth face difficult barriers to basic education.

These barriers include being unable to meet enrollment requirements. (Providing proof of residency, legal guardianship, and school health records.) Lack of transportation; lack of school supplies and clothing; and poor health, fatigue, and hunger are also a big problem for these children. When these barriers are not addressed, homeless children and youth often are unable to attend, or even enroll in, school, which prevents them from obtaining the education that is both their legal right and their best hope of escaping poverty as adults.

What Educational Rights Do Homeless Children and Youth Have?
Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (referred to as the McKinney-Vento Act) is a federal law designed to remove barriers to education created by homelessness, and thereby increase the enrollment, attendance, and success of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Key provisions of the Act include:
* Students who are homeless can remain in one school, even if their temporary living situation is located in another school district or attendance area, if that is in their best interest. Schools must provide transportation.
* Children and youth who are homeless can enroll in school and begin attending immediately, even if they cannot produce normally required documents, such as birth certificates, proof of guardianship, immunization records, or proof of residency.
* Every school district must designate a homeless liaison to ensure the McKinney-Vento Act is implemented in the district. Homeless liaisons have many critical responsibilities, including identification, enrollment, and collaboration with community agencies.
* Every state must designate a state coordinator to ensure the McKinney-Vento Act is implemented in the state.
* Both state coordinators and homeless liaisons must collaborate with other agencies serving homeless children, youth, and families to enhance educational attendance and success.
* State departments of education and school districts must review and revise their policies and practices to eliminate barriers to the enrollment and retention in school of homeless children and youth.

What Can I Do to Help?
There are many ways to help children and youth experiencing homelessness:
Volunteer or donate locally
Every community is unique, so it is important to learn the needs that have been identified by your local school district and by community service providers.
Contact your School District
Every school district is required to designate a local homeless education liaison, which is responsible for coordinating services and support for homeless students attending in the district. You can contact your local liaison by calling your school district, or you may contact your State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
Contact a Community Service Provider in your area
To find local homeless service providers in your community, please visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care webpage or the National Coalition for the Homeless’ national, state, and local directories.

Why does society reject, neglect and otherwise disavow – the homeless?

Why are the homeless the ‘Great Outcasts’ of our society and creatures which ‘normal’ citizens have nothing to do with?

And then, why do we ask, knowing the apparent answers to such questions… “Why?”

“Why are the homeless the products of our ‘Great Society’, and what can we do about it?”

Most of American society does not want to see or acknowledge the existence and/or plight of the homeless.In most people’s minds encounters in the park are to be avoided, as we do not want to have to ‘explain’ to our children as to “Why is that man over there carrying all that stuff?” (sleeping bags, etc.) “Why doesn’t he just leave it at home?”

Or, while sitting in the park, we don’t want to see the homeless person, when we are by ourselves sitting there enjoying our lunch on a park bench. And we don’t want to run into the homeless on the street or anywhere else, because they might be ‘panhandling’ for change or asking for a hand-out and such a confrontation makes us uncomfortable, feeling that we are being robbed of our last change for bus-fare or coffee at Starbucks. They’re such an inconvenience!

They remind us that there are the rich and that there are the poor and deep down inside ourselves, in our human conscientiousness, we have this uncomfortable feeling that there must be some fundamental wrong, or problem, with the system, when there exists a human society that cannot take care of its own desperate people.

Anyway, here in America, most Americans will just walk past a homeless person on the street and act as though he/she does not exist.

The Great Unseen People of America
For some strange reason, many foreigners, tourists, and visitors have no problem approaching and acknowledging the homeless. It might be that they have known such people in their own homeland and have more humanely accepted them into their society, something America, with its consumer and money-spending economy and society, is unwilling to do.

And yet part of the problem of the ‘unseen’ here in America, is also cultural and religious. “I made my way, my fortune, and they can too!” However, those facts and realities of life may be the illusive dream that never happens for the homeless person, as opposed to all of the breaks, opportunities, family trust funds and inheritances and other good-will advantages which the privileged individual has probably been the beneficiary of in this country.

In other words, in America, everyone just goes their own merry-way, superficially dealing with each other but not really knowing one another.

Sometimes, of course, people do reach out to others and it is a joy when they do. But, the religion-cultural aspect, here in America strongly implies that one’s personal and family responsibilities largely be kept separated from one’s economic responsibilities leaving our personal responsibilities in the hands of multitudes of third-party- representatives, whoever they may be; from your congressman, to your minister or priest, to the homeless shelter, and so on, all the way up to that greatest third-party-representative the Almighty Dollar Bill!

In other words, as long as such representatives exist, in all facets of American life, then we don’t have to be responsible. We have no direct, personal responsibility for our words, actions and deeds. We feel we no longer have to be our brother’s keeper as long as our ‘representatives’ are exercising our responsibilities for us!

We have been taught that the homeless – and all of the ‘disadvantaged’ – are a State problem, not a Church problem.
We can then attend our ‘clubhouses-of-worship’ with the knowledge that only such people as ourselves; those of us who have a home, a family, an income, a job, and everything else that defines the American Dream will be there, to worship and join with us, in our exclusive ‘clubhouses’, and that any ‘State-problem’ such as homelessness will not be seen there!

But Jesus told His followers to do something about the poor. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14 NIV

And thus the American Churches should feel an obligation to do something. And yet some feel they have to contend with the importance of being a venue of worship, which, of course, in most cases, serve and benefit only its members!

But read what James wrote to the church of his time: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James2:5 NIV

Unfortunately, ignoring the poor is an age old problem that seems to continually plague humanity:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezek. 16:49

But now let’s get back to our homeless problem. (Which the State apparently, cannot do anything about!) The homeless need us! They need us to reintegrate them into our society! They need us to help them find their way. And their own way should be determined exclusively by the individual. Not the way or path that we, or others in society, think is the solution, to any and all problems of the homeless.

Why the homeless problem won’t go away.
The homeless problem won’t go away because the problem is a result of our own system – of our attitudes, of our discrimination, of our economics and greed and of our prejudices that keeps us from doing anything.

However, with God, we can go out on the streets, we can find, and nurture, and actually help the homeless of America …
If… we are willing to dedicate ourselves to eliminating homelessness!
To find, and to really know another person can be a joy! And especially, if that other person is a homeless person.
One can almost say that one has found another member of one’s long lost family. Because we are, all of us, the Family of the Human Race!

So let’s work to bring all of us together in peace, harmony, and love. Let us keep the mindset that we truly are our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us!

Now that the winter weather is beginning to thaw, many of us tend to put the homeless community on the back burners of our mind and focus more on our own plans for the coming spring and summer months.

Unfortunately, for those living on the streets, their plans deal more with; “What do I eat? Where will I sleep tonight? Will I be safe?”

The following is a letter I received from Mike Saklar, Executive Director of The Siena/Francis House here in Omaha, Ne.

Hopefully it will encourage us to continue supporting Siena/Francis House and other ministries like this.

The recent, bitterly-cold weather can be especially dangerous for persons who become homeless.

Very early one recent morning, a freezing woman – Cecilia – arrived at the Siena/Francis House homeless shelter seeking help. It was nearly 3:00 a.m., and the temperature outside was near zero. On top of that, Cecilia had no cold-weather clothes on – not even a coat!

Siena/Francis House staff immediately brought Cecilia into our shelter and wrapped her in a blanket. We also gave her a cup of hot chocolate and put her in front of a heater to try to warm her up. Cecilia was so cold and shivering she could barely speak.

Fearing the worst, our women’s shelter manager examined Cecilia’s hands and feet. One of her feet had turned dark blue – a telling sign of frostbite. Cecilia also appeared to have frostbite on her fingers.

We immediately called 911 and Cecilia was taken to the Creighton Medical Center, where she was treated for her frostbite. Later – after receiving treatment at the hospital – Cecilia returned to the Siena/Francis House. We then were able to learn just how a coatless Cecilia ended up at our shelter that very early morning

The previous night, Cecilia had been out to a late dinner with her alcoholic and abusive husband. After dinner, and as they were driving home, the guy started to argue with Cecilia, and then to slap her around while in the car. At that point, the guy pulled the car over and ordered her out. Grabbing the coat out of Cecilia’s hands, he sped away.

Not knowing anyone in the area, and without a cell phone, Cecilia began walking. Cecilia tried to flag down passing motorists, but no one stopped. So, she kept on walking into the cold night. The temperature moved downward, and the toes on Cecilia’s feet started to freeze.

Cecilia walked for nearly three hours, until she finally stopped at a park to rest. It was nearly 3 a.m., snow was falling, and Cecilia could now barely move. Thankfully, a concerned cab driver saw the coatless Cecilia seated on a park bench. Sensing something wasn’t quite right, the cabbie stopped and found an extremely chilled woman in distress. This kind and compassionate man hurried Cecilia into his cab and brought her straight to the Siena/Francis House, free of charge.

While at our shelter, Cecilia has continued to recover from her frostbite. Our staff takes Cecilia to her medical appointments, and we make sure that she is healthy, safe and warm. We’ve also begun the process of helping Cecilia start to sort out her life.

Your gift is used to help women like Cecilia. Although how Cecilia arrived at the Siena/Francis House is unique, her story of abuse is not. Cecilia is just one of the many hundreds of battered women who seek safety and security at the Siena/Francis House each year. Some women flee their abuser after the first incident of violence. Others suffer through years of cruelty. Some of the women who seek shelter here have children, and many of those kids are very young.

Besides providing Cecilia with food to eat and warm clothes to wear, I’m grateful that we have the ability to provide her a safe, secure place to temporarily call home.

Will you please give a gift to the Siena/Francis House at this time? Your gift will help care for persons like Cecilia, and it is very much appreciated.
Please click here to make a secure, online donation! We truly need your help to provide food, shelter, and clothing to the hundreds of hungry and homeless persons who daily show up at our door.

Please know how grateful I am to be able to be part of an organization which exists to help persons like Cecilia. Please also know that I fully appreciate the fact that the Siena/Francis House is only able to provide our basic human services to our community’s homeless because of the generosity of so many kind and caring persons from our community, like you. Your support makes a real difference to the Siena/Francis House, and especially to the homeless people we serve.

God bless you for your sustained support, and I wish you well during these cold winter months.

With gratitude,
Mike Saklar
Executive Director
Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter

P.S. We are in our busiest time of the year. Hundreds of cold and hungry individuals and families seek food, shelter, & safety every day. Please consider making a gift to the Siena/Francis House homeless shelter today. Our organization exists and operates almost entirely on charitable donations.

Gifts to Siena/Francis House are used to provide food, shelter, clothing, and care of the people who turn to us during their hour of need, and are greatly appreciated. All of our services are provided at no cost to our guests. All gifts to Siena/Francis House are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

For more information about Siena/Francis House or to include us in your estate planning, please contact Siena/Francis House Development Director, Tim Sully at (402) 341-1821.

Please click here for more information about The Siena/Francis House.

The following is an event posted on MACCH’s Listserve.

What is it like to be a homeless person? Why are people homeless?

Omaha Public Library (OPL), in collaboration with University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health Interprofessional Service Learning Academy (IP-SLA) and the Siena/Francis House (SFH), is helping put a face to homelessness in Omaha.

Throughout February, the Michael Phipps Gallery at the W. Dale Clark Main Library, 215 S. 15th St., will feature “Finding a Voice,” an art exhibit by Chris Leet and Jeremiah Neal. There will be an opening reception and panel discussion on homelessness on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Chris Leet was born in Omaha in 1973. He has been an artist most of his life, creating album covers and concert posters. Leet was completing his drug recovery program and living at the shelter when he re-discovered himself through the “Finding a Voice” project, an inter professional collaboration that links health care, social work and communication students with people who are homeless and are receiving services at SFH. Leet is now a dean’s list student at Metropolitan Community College.

Jeremiah Neal was a homeless guest at SFH. While battling with addiction and other personal struggles, Neal was encouraged by SFH staff to embrace his artistic talent and has created art that has attracted positive attention in our community.

Both artists are sober, living independently in Omaha, and working to empower other homeless people to find their voice and start new journeys.

The panel discussion on homelessness and transformation will include eight panelists with unique perspectives on the project and its implications:
Nancy Farris, College of Nursing UNMC; Terry Johnson, case manager at SFH; Andrea Laccheri, University of Nebraska at Omaha doctoral student; Chris Leet, artist; Ruth Margalit, IP-SLA director; Jerry Neal, artist; Rita Paskowitz, professional storyteller; and Mike Saklar, executive director of SFH. Gary Wasdin, Omaha Public Library executive director, will moderate the panel discussion.

For information visit:
or Contact:
Emily Getzschman @ 402.444.4896,
Or Linda Trout, 402.444.4838,

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.

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


(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 :

Continuing my profiles of organizations in Omaha who reach out to the homeless and low income families I would like to highlight a very important ministry to the community.

Mission For All Nations

Mission For All Nations is a faith-based charitable organization founded to put love into action by providing food, clothing, shelter and other necessities to people of all ethnic backgrounds who are in need. They are creating an environment where lives are being changed instead of fostering dependency.

Last year their Homelessness and Hunger Prevention program supplied food pantry orders to provide a 5-7 day supply of food equivalent to over ½ a million meals to 26,870 individuals in economic distress along with personal hygiene products for each household. That is more food distributed directly to clients than any other pantry in the state of Nebraska. Additionally, nearly 20,000 clients received clothing and household goods. Overall, nearly $2 million in necessities were distributed to improve the lives of people experiencing an urgent need.

Their History

Josue Anaya was sent away from El Salvador by his mother in order to escape the bloody civil war in 1984. Later that year, after getting separated from his missionary contact, he nearly froze to death on the streets of Des Moines. After a dramatic rescue, he believed God had saved him to help others in similar desperate circumstances. In 1986, he married his wife Mary, and over the years they frequently provided shelter for homeless people out of their home. In 1992, they moved to Omaha and in 1999 both graduated from ministry school and started a small bilingual church. After working two years in the South Omaha community and receiving frequent requests for assistance with basic needs, they realized that the need was greater than they alone could meet.

The Anayas, ordained ministers fluent in English and Spanish, had started a church in 1999 in South Omaha. But they were constantly helping visitors with clothes and food.

“The ministry grew more into a pantry than a church,” Mary Anaya told The World-Herald in 2004. “We realized that what was needed in this community maybe wasn’t what we originally thought. We changed gears.”

A group of local business owners and clergy was asked to form a board for a new organization, and Mission For All Nations was born in November of 2002. The new organization was incorporated in January 2003 for the purpose of providing food, clothing and shelter for the needy of all ethnic backgrounds. Mission For All Nations is now the largest food pantry in a 93-county area of Nebraska and Iowa. The organization incorporated in 2003 and quickly grew to encompass three buildings in the 21st and Q Streets area.

Pastor Mary Anaya

Pastor Mary Anaya dedicated her life to the Lord and the spreading of the Gospel by demonstrating love in action and serving people in need. Her hard work was paramount in developing Mission For All Nations into the largest food pantry in the area. Her passion for the poor was evident in everything that she did and has made our community a better place to live.

Though diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer early in her pregnancy, she tried to continue her work with the food pantry she co-founded. But she died early Wednesday, October 21, 2009 just after midnight at Bergan Mercy Medical Center at age 42. So did her 19-week-old unborn baby due in March whom she carried, leaving behind her family and a long history of loving her neighbor as herself. She will be missed but her legacy will continue to be carried on through the work of Mission For All Nations.

Mary was the organization. When you said, ‘Mary Anaya,’ everyone knew it was Mission For All Nations. She gave everything she had. She and husband Josue would have given the last box of food out of their home cupboard to help somebody.

Anaya, who had no cancer history and was not a smoker, went to see a doctor Aug. 21, 2009 when she was having difficulty breathing. She was hospitalized for fluid buildup on her lungs. She was later diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Cancer during pregnancy is rare but not unheard of — about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies coincide with a mother’s diagnosis of cancer, according to the Houston-based M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Mary was in her first trimester when diagnosed with cancer and was told that the disease was too advanced for treatment options.

The Omaha Food Bank has distributed almost 278,000 pounds of food to Mission for All Nations. That represents about a quarter of the 1.16 million pounds of food the food bank distributed to 55 agencies in Douglas County.

Unlike most food pantries, which limit visits to several times a year, Mission For All Nations had an open-door policy for the needy, as long as they volunteered.

In 2009 Mission for All Nations provided 37,109 individuals with a week’s supply of food and 240 families were provided a 1-2 day supply of food. Clients also received 29,398 clothing and household items.

Watch Mission For All Nation video here

As we approach the holidays Mission For All Nations is in need of turkeys and holiday foods. They anticipate serving over 4,500 people in November alone. An extra donation of $31 will help provide holiday food for the working poor. They also need extra volunteers to help with food distribution and toy registration for their ‘Christmas for South O Program.’

If you are interested in helping Mission for All Nations you can contact them at (402) 733-2077 or register online here

For more information about Mission for All nations visit

While the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness has been declining over the past two years, 107,000 former service men and women were homeless on a given night in 2009 as estimated by the The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA)

Sixty-one percent of homeless Veterans are between ages 35 and 54. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is alarmingly increasing as well as the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children.

In general, Veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma which can lead to higher risk for homelessness.  About half of homeless Veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Half of homeless Veterans have histories of involvement with the legal system. (I personally believe that all of these problems are primarily a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan)  Veterans are more likely to live outdoors—unsheltered—and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

There is Help

But there is help available for these men and women who sacrificed so much for us and have received so little in return. These brave souls willingly placed themselves in harm’s way in order to make our way of life safe and secure. Now we have the obligation and responsibility to help make their lives safe and secure.

If you know someone who is a Veteran and is experiencing homelessness you can help them get the help they need by contacting the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans

The VA has founded the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline to ensure that homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. The hotline is intended to assist homeless Veterans and their families, VA Medical Centers, federal, state and local partners, community agencies, service providers and others in the community.  To be connected with a trained VA staff member call 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838).

It’s nice that there are so many businesses and organizations that take one day out of the year to honor our Veterans, but after Veteran’s Day ends let’s not return to our life as usual. Remember that after today many of our Veterans will still be homeless and in desperate need of our help and support.

If you know of a Veteran who is facing homelessness please make the call to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans or contact your local VA to find out how you can help. In this way we can make everyday a day that we honor our Veterans.

“Homelessness cannot be solved by a single agency or organization, by a single level of government, or by a single sector. Everyone should be reminded of the intricacies of homelessness as a policy area, and remember that preventing and ending homelessness will take real coordination, collaboration, and a constant exchange of ideas.”

HHS Secretary                                                                                                                                                              Kathleen Sebelius