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Social distancing often difficult to enforce while serving Omaha's homeless population

Social distancing often difficult to enforce while serving Omaha's homeless population

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Lunch at Leahy Mall

Homeless people and others line up Wednesday on 14th Street across from the W. Dale Clark Library for a lunch made by a local couple. Volunteers tried to remind people in the crowd to stay 6 feet apart to meet social distance guidelines.

Social distancing isn’t easy to enforce when homeless people waiting for lunch begin lining up each Wednesday on 14th Street in downtown Omaha.

“Guys, 6 feet apart, 6 feet apart,” a volunteer reminds the crowd amid concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those gathered on the sidewalk across from the W. Dale Clark Library barely acknowledged his plea.

At 9:45 a.m., the volunteers began handing out plates of food cooked at home by a local couple who have stepped forward to provide the meals.

Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department, said it would be good if the people distributing the food also could provide those in line with an opportunity to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. He added, “We would encourage people to maintain 6 feet of social distancing as much as possible.”

The lunch provided to the homeless people typically consists of fried rice and chicken. It also might include pancakes or chicken soup and pineapple, said the female half of the couple, who doesn’t want any attention for what she does and asked not to be identified.

The woman said she saw the need for feeding the homeless while volunteering at the Open Door Mission. She volunteers there a few days a week.

“I said, ‘Oh, my God!’ ” the woman said. “We have a lot of people we need to feed.”

When work began on the riverfront revitalization project, lunch was served at Heartland of America Park and other locations downtown. Recently, the lunch line returned to 14th Street between Douglas and Farnam Streets.

Rooney, from the health department, said the people feeding the homeless “provide a very important service.”

“We need food in this community,” he said of the city’s homeless population. “It’s very important for people to get fed.”

kevin.cole@owh.com, 402-444-1272

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