Homeless people housed, no strings attached

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October 15th, 2010

By Angel Martin

About 75 volunteers walked the streets and rummaged through the woods in Omaha and Council Bluffs this week, looking for homeless people. It’s part of a new approach to end homelessness in the community.

Unidentified homeless person (Photo courtesy Rob, Creative Commons)

In a homemade video, broadcast at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Oct. 15, Carmen, 54, told her story. A frail woman, she wears a white hooded sweater, her thin, grayish hair pulled back in two side braids. She has a post-graduate degree, and is an honorably discharged veteran. She has been homeless for about 25 years. Carmen has also been diagnosed with cancer, and has just six months to live.

Carmen’s tragic story was told at a press conference at UNO, held in partnership with the local non-profit, Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, or MACCH, which has helped Carmen find a home. Their effort was part of the 100,000 Homes Omaha Metro Campaign, a local partnership with the national non-profit, Common Ground. The group surveyed and targeted the most vulnerable homeless people in the community this week, on foot. Erin Porterfield, Executive Director of MACCH, said the group has found there are about 170 people in the metro who are severely ill and need homes urgently. “We really zeroed in on understanding just how ill people are, how close to death people are, and they are living on the streets or in emergency shelters,” she said. “The other thing that we learned in the survey was, given the range of what people need, there are housing resources available in the community. It’s just a matter of matching housing and support to the persons needs.” Porterfield said the group plans to have 100 people in Omaha and Council Bluffs housed by June 2012. A similar program in New York reduced homelessness by 87% in the city, according to Common Ground.

Tera Jackson, Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Team Leader for Heartland Family Services, said homeless people often have issues with mental and physical health, as well as problems with drugs and alcohol. Typically, programs require homeless people to reach out for the service and have strict guidelines for them to follow. And so, she said, they often don’t take advantage of community services available to them. “I am really excited about what we have going on, because [there are] really no real strings attached with it. If you need a place to stay, come on, if you haven’t been sober for three months, or six months, whatever the case may be, we’re trying to get you housed, put you in a warm place to stay. And if you’re willing and want to address those issues, we’re here to help.”

The Reader’s Brandon Vogel traveled with the group searching for homeless people in the metro. Check out his story here.

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