Posts Tagged ‘Siena/Francis House’

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.

Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college degrees, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults. Click HERE for labor stats 

Some can move back home with their parents, but that’s not an option for those whose families have been hit hard by the economy. Without a stable home address, they are part of an elusive group that hope to avoid the stigma of public homelessness and are missed by many yearly homeless counts. They are mostly couch surfers or sleep hidden away in cars or other private places, during what they hope will be a temporary predicament.
These young adults have joined the new face of a national homeless population; one that poverty experts and case workers say is growing. Yet the problem remains mostly invisible. Most cities and states, that focus on the chronically homeless have not made special efforts to identify and help young adults and homeless families with children, who tend to shy away from ordinary shelters out of fear of being victimized by the chronically homeless who may have criminal backgrounds or who are mentally unstable.

$20.5-million complex for the chronically homeless?
The Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles is building a 102-unit, $20.5-million complex by stacking pre-outfitted apartments atop one another in a Lego-like fashion to save time and money. The residents will pay 30% of their monthly job or government assistance income as rent but are not required to seek on-site medical treatment, psychiatric counseling, drug or alcohol treatment or therapy as a condition of residency.

“The thought is, how do we help people make the choice that is best for them,” said Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust, who stressed the trust’s Housing First model — a philosophy that has caught fire nationwide. Alvidrez said, “The first step to helping someone recover from a chronic drug or alcohol problem is to give them a home and sense of community.”
But will someone who has a permanent residence they can afford seek out psychiatric counseling, drug or alcohol treatment on their own? Most likely, they will not. But thankfully, the problem can be hidden from the people of Los Angeles now. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-skid-row-housing-20121216,0,1039440.story

Not all shelters agree with this “Housing First” philosophy.
Founded in 1975, the Siena/Francis House is Nebraska’s largest shelter, providing food, emergency shelter & clothing, along with outreach/case management to homeless families and individuals from Omaha and surrounding communities. The Siena/Francis House also houses a residential chemical addictions treatment center, a day services center, an employment training program, and a medical clinic. The Siena/Francis House has a policy that tries to never turn away any person or family who comes to them in need, regardless of their circumstances.

In 2011 the Siena/Francis House served 418,107 meals and provided 156,258 nights of shelter to approximately 4,000 homeless men, women and children. In pursuing the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of homelessness – one person at a time – the Siena/Francis House provides a residential addiction recovery program, aptly named “Miracles Treatment Center”. Any person who desires to participate in the Miracles Treatment Center must be willing to commit to stay at least 120 days in the Siena/Francis House’s residential program, enter its job training program, and provide 40 service hours per week at the shelter.

The Siena/Francis House’s belief is that, by finding value and untapped abilities in people that society has overlooked, they help them find value in themselves. By providing persons in the Miracles Treatment Center with counseling, education, job training, and life and independent living skills, they furnish them the tools that will help them recover from, and successfully manage the problems that brought them to the doors of the Siena/Francis House in the first place. It is through programs like this that people receive a vision for a new future; one that is positive; because without vision people are destroyed.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18)

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

(Reprinted with permission from Siena/Francis House Fall Newsletter)

Creighton University Students get to know homeless over dinner

Every Monday evening, a group of Creighton University students spend time at the Siena/Francis House as part of a “Weekly Service Site” program, organized by Creighton’s Center for Service & Justice. However, the “service” that these students provide to guests at the shelter is much different than the normal volunteering at the Siena/Francis House. Instead of serving dinner to the shelter guests, (as most volunteers do) these students sit down and have dinner with them.

While sharing the meal that has been prepared that evening, the students engage in conversation with the homeless families and individuals. And, in doing so, these students’ own perception of homelessness – and of who is homeless – is often challenged.

Will Rutt, a Creighton student coordinator of this project states that, “By listening to the folks at dinner it really puts a human face on people who are homeless, and how similar I am to them. My time here at the Siena/Francis House has really highlighted that we share many of the same passions, interests and dreams. I’ve just been given more opportunities to fulfill those dreams.”

After dinner, the students head to a nearby conference room, where they spend another half hour listening to participants of the residential “Miracles” recovery program at the Siena/Francis House. The recovery program participants share with the students their own personal stories of how they ended up at the Siena/Francis House and what they are learning (and changing) about themselves while they are here. The recovery program participants end their talk by sharing with the students their hopes, dreams and plans for the future, after graduating from the recovery program.

Clearly, the Creighton students who come to the Siena/Francis House as part of this weekly visit are also very much changed, as a result of their experience. Another student coordinator, Elizabeth Samson states that, “After listening to people share their stories, I’m reminded that the negative stigma attached to persons suffering from addiction isn’t fair…or really who these people are. There is so much more to a person than that. These stories continue to prove to me that there is a true commonality between each of us, despite the experiences that we’ve had.”

This student-led partnership between Creighton University and the Siena/Francis House has been in existence for over ten years, and is popular with Creighton students. Each week there are students who show up who had never participated, prior, along with others who are “regulars”.

Regardless of how many times a Creighton student might stop by on any given Monday evening, there is no doubt that this experience is education that the students will not find inside a classroom. Student coordinator, Jennifer Lambrecht, shares that “Statistics and figures that quantify problems within our society are fine, but they don’t compare to the lessons I’ve learned from other persons’ life experiences. There is no question that I’ve grown as a person from my time spent at the Siena/Francis House.”

Exercising a policy of unconditional acceptance, the Siena/Francis House is dedicated to providing  services to the poor and homeless and refer to them as guests rather than clients or residents – giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.  All of the services  at Siena/Francis House are provided at no cost to its guests.

Founded in 1975, the Siena/Francis House is Nebraska’s largest shelter and is located in three facilities at 17th & Nicholas Streets in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The Siena/Francis House provides emergency overnight shelter to men, women, and women with children. The Siena/Francis House also provides food to the homeless through its Meal Provider Program, clothing, and case management outreach services through its day services program. Additionally, the Siena/Francis House operates a residential addiction recovery program aptly named the “Miracles” Treatment Center.

Click here to find out how you can get involved in helping the Siena/Francis House.

By Erin Grace

WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

A federal program that helps fund emergency shelters and food pantries has been slashed, resulting in major cuts to states like Nebraska and Iowa that have relatively low unemployment rates. The National Emergency Food & Shelter Board Program took a 40 percent hit nationally. That led to cuts in local grants. News of the cuts, which hit this week, will force Omaha-area homeless shelters and agencies that serve the poor to make up the difference.

“Fundraising’s not going gangbusters this time of the year,” said Mike Saklar, who runs Omaha’s largest shelter, the Siena-Francis House at 1702 Nicholas St. “With the economy and uncertainty, it’s going to be hard to replace money like that.” Saklar’s shelter stands to lose about $40,000 from Douglas County’s loss of direct funds, but could see some of that trickle back through the overall state pool for the program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For the first time in anyone’s recollection, Douglas County is getting zero direct FEMA homeless dollars, down from $205,000 last year. The county will be able to compete for some dollars from the state pool. Nebraska is slated to get about $250,000, with about $10,000 earmarked for Scotts Bluff County. That’s the lowest amount Nebraska has received since 1996 and less than half of what it got last year. Funds can be used for food, shelter, rent or mortgage payments, utility bills and repairs to shelters.

The same scenario is playing out in Iowa, where its largest county, Polk, home to Des Moines, got zero direct FEMA homeless dollars and had to compete with the rest of the state for its state pool. David Dischler, who runs the Des Moines-based Iowa Institute for Community Alliances and sits on the state set-aside committee, said two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties won’t get FEMA funding and that Des Moines will take a 70 percent hit. He said that will force his agency, which acts as the bank in doling out the FEMA dollars, to “throw some grantees off the bus.”

Dischler has worked with this federal program since its inception in 1983 as part of a federal jobs stimulus bill. He said the program was started to address what was then seen as an emergency-only issue, homelessness. That’s how it became part of FEMA. But as years went on, he said, homelessness was seen as a more pervasive, complex problem and one that affected not just down-and-out men with substance abuse or mental health problems but women, children and families. Dischler said it’s one of the easier federal grant programs to run and therefore helps a lot of smaller nonprofits with little budget for overhead. But this year, federal funding for the program was cut from $200 million in 2010 to about $120 million. It could be a sign of what’s to come in an era of federal belt-tightening.

Criteria for the FEMA homeless funds have always included poverty and unemployment rates. This year, local communities receiving direct funding had to match or exceed an 11.5 percent unemployment rate and a 14.4 percent poverty rate. Douglas County’s rates were 5.1 percent unemployment and 9.8 percent poverty. Theresa Christensen of the Salvation Army in Omaha said that charity faces a loss of nearly $13,000, half of which went to food. “Almost $7,000 worth of food is a lot of food,” said Christensen, homeless and behavioral health services director. “Our food pantry (visits) are up 25 percent, and like everybody, we’re struggling to keep up with the need.”

Reprinted with permission

http://www.omaha.com/article/20110812/NEWS01/708129913