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Subzero temperatures have homeless shelters 'bursting at the seams'

Subzero temperatures have homeless shelters 'bursting at the seams'

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The lowest temperatures of winter have sapped the resources of local homeless shelters — not a good thing when the outlook for the next two weeks leans toward colder than average weather.

The metro area’s major homeless shelters say they could use a resupply of socks, gloves, blankets, coats, coffee, money ... you name it. Including toilet paper.

“After 22 years, we know what to expect but it always seems like we’re running out of toilet paper,” said Candace Gregory, chief executive officer at the Open Door Mission/Lydia House.

Gregory ticked through some of the needs:

» Mens gloves. “We are completely out.”

» Kids gloves. Buses take 125 homeless kids to school daily. “They are always coming back missing one glove.

» Blankets. Even people with homes, especially renters, come to the shelter seeking blankets. “A lot of the times the homes are very drafty, so they come to us to ask for an extra blanket or two to cover windows and doorways.”

“You can never have too many warm things,” Gregory said.

Temperatures in Omaha Sunday morning bottomed out at 6 degrees below zero, said Van DeWald, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The last time Omaha saw a temperature that low was Feb. 5, 2015, when the mercury also bottomed out at minus 6 in Omaha, which, coincidentally, was the lowest reading of 2015, according to the weather service.

Metro area homeless shelters are overflowing with clients, officials said.

“As usual, we are bursting at the seams,” Mike Saklar executive director of the Siena-Francis House said. “Our staff has been patrolling the area (north downtown) every hour on the hour to look for people caught outside.”

Saturday night there were 518 people jammed into Siena-Francis House, Saklar said. Since the shelter has 389 beds, people slept in chairs, on mats and couches.

Gregory said the 816 beds at the Open Door Mission and Lydia House were filled, and 83 people were sleeping on mats.

The meal count reflects the spike in need, too, she said. Typically the Open Door Mission and Lydia House serve 2,000 meals a day but they have been feeding 2,300 a day since Thursday, Gregory said.

Gregory and Saklar describe similar needs, generally any type of warm weather gear.

“It’s so important because a lot of clients walk to and from jobs or their appointments,” Gregory said.

Saklar said the Siena-Francis House suspended some of its rules to get people off the street. If someone is banned and barred from the property, the rule is relaxed for the night to keep them from being outside, he said.

“Our staff is well trained to handle these situations. We’re always pretty well prepared but we are running out of warm clothing,” Saklar said. “The other day, I saw a guy without gloves outside, which is hard to believe in this cold, so I gave him mine.”

Temperatures this week are to roller-coaster between single-digits and highs in the 30s as fast-moving Arctic systems sweep through the region. Through Jan. 24, the long-term outlook favors lower than average temperatures in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. Lows this time of year average in the teens and highs average in the low to mid-30s.

Saklar remains distressed by the death of a homeless man over the Thanksgiving holiday. The 36-year-old was found near 72nd and Blondo Streets. With that in mind, he issued a plea to the public:

“If you see someone you think is trying to live in their car or outside during this cold, please call 911. It’s better to make that call then to find out later that someone was injured or died.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1272,

Local Weather

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