Pandemic continues to contribute to homelessness


Grace Bellinghausen

Open Door Mission residents gather in the dining hall before lunch, where they receive daily meals courtesy of the shelter and volunteers. Photo by Grace Bellinghausen/The Gateway.

Recent homeless encampment sweeps have created challenges for shelters around Omaha to ensure housing as winter nears.

Over 2,000 people in Nebraska are estimated to be without housing on any given day. With a lack of affordable housing in Omaha, people like Richard Thomas Jr. see themselves back in emergency shelters multiple times before finding permanent housing. Thomas said he’s been at the Sienna Francis homeless shelter for the past year.

“It seems like the ones that get assistance don’t need it, because they can get assistance because they are competent,” Thomas said. “The ones who need assistance, they are incompetent and have mental problems like schizophrenia and they’re left here to sit.”

According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, unsheltered homelessness increased by 30% in Omaha in 2020, which has brought new challenges for local shelters like the Open Door Mission.

Many shelters are having to take a new approach to keep their facilities from bursting at the seams. Open Door Mission Senior Program Director Steve Frazee said they are finding alternative ways to deal with the shelter reaching capacity.

“Last year we reduced the volume of people in shelters, so we had a hotel so people would have individual rooms so we wouldn’t have the congregate living problem,” Frazee said. “We are in the process of developing those plans in case we need it again this year.”

Fixing this issue is difficult due to a lack of resources. There’s been an influx of people struggling to get back on their feet because of the pandemic. 

Without proper resources for community nonprofits and shelters, police tearing down homeless encampments is just moving the problem somewhere else.

Another contributing factor to homelessness is the lack of housing. Omaha developers are focused on apartment complexes that are geared toward higher income levels rather than low-income housing.

Currently, the Omaha Housing Authority has a list of factors that limit who is eligible for their Public and Affordable housing program. One member of the household must be a U.S. citizen, you cannot have been evicted within three years if it was for criminal activity and two years if it was for refusal of payment and you have to also be debt-free to your previous tenants. These factors commonly lead people to homelessness, inevitably causing them to depend on these programs.