Posts Tagged ‘Siena/Francis House’

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

Forecasters are predicting wind chills down to -30 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they’ve become experts at stretching every dollar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about local shelters click the links below.

http://www.opendoormission.org/

http://www.stephencenter.org/

http://www.themicahhouse.org/

http://www.macchomeless.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 17, 2010

Dear Jonah,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Saklar

Executive Director

Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Porterfield, LCSW

Executive Director

MACCH

(Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless)

115 S. 49 Ave.

Omaha, NE 68132

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

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

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

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

But some of the damage has already been done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to more news :

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schedule of Events:

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

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

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

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

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

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


On August 7th the Siena/Francis House in Omaha, Ne. will be holding its Third Annual Art Exhibition and Sale in memory of Ed Keck (Bill Keck’s brother – Bill is director of the Miracles Treatment Center).

This exhibition will begin at noon at the Tip Top Building, 1510 Cuming Street and is in conjunction with North Downtown Days (Click here for details of all the other events for North Downtown Days that will take place at Hot Shops, Slow Down, Film Streams, Urban Outfitters, etc.)

The Siena/Francis House Singers will be performing at 2 PM and 5 PM while others will perform at 3:30 PM and 6:30 PM.

We will have featured artists at the Hot Shops and Studio 906.

All are invited to attend.  The Siena/Francis House would appreciate your helping them to get the word out  on this event.

You can check out The Siena/Francis House art and video gallery  here.

The Siena-Francis House wants families to try a do-it-yourself fundraiser for the homeless shelter. During Lent, the shelter asks families to dine at home for a meal they typically would eat in a restaurant. The money saved can then be donated to the Siena-Francis House, 1702 Nicholas St., P. O. Box 217 Downtown Station, Omaha, NE 68101.