OPINION: Omaha homeless encampments are not the issue

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Bella Watson
OPINION EDITOR

The recent police clearing of an Omaha homeless encampment only increases displacement. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

As winter draws nearer here in Omaha, you can see the community begin to prepare. Lights have begun to decorate trees and homes across town, and holiday sales are starting to pop up in every store. The days are becoming increasingly shorter and the temperatures are dropping at an even faster rate.

With these changes comes a new season of difficulties and stressors. T-shirts turn into coats, windows are sealed tight to keep warmth inside and outdoor walkways are lined with road salt. The transition from the sunshine and warmth into the freezing dark of winters can be difficult for everyone.

Those without sanctuary become especially vulnerable during the bleak months of a Midwestern winter. Displaced individuals are often forced to tough out the winters, their only options being the outdoors or placement in an emergency shelter, which are usually overcrowded and hard to come by.

In Omaha, homeless numbers have been on the rise since the beginning of 2019. Omaha currently has roughly six to seven thousand displaced individuals, which is a 1.6% increase from 2019. That being said, Omaha itself only has four homeless shelters. Some can be found in surrounding cities like Lincoln, Carter Lake and Council Bluffs.

The lack of resources for families and individuals who are homeless in Omaha is extremely alarming, especially considering the city’s infrastructure. As Omaha continues to update and expand, the city is being built in a way that is meant to directly oppress those without a roof over their heads. One of the most blatant examples of this is the way city and park benches are being built — they are made in inaccessible ways that do not allow them to be used as beds by homeless people at night.

Omaha Police have been harassing groups of vagrants who are attempting to set up more stable camps for the winter. Officers have been sent to various parts of the downtown area after receiving complaints from nearby businesses. The officers ordered all residents to clear the space immediately, and those who refused face the possibility of legal repercussions.

Encampments can help increase the likelihood of a displaced person surviving, especially during the winter months. A homeless camp offers people support, expanded shelter and a wider access to resources. By dismantling these camps, the Omaha Police Department is not only actively working against their own citizens, but also doing nothing to solve the issue at hand, which is the homelessness epidemic.

Unless resources are allocated to serve the displaced population, disassembling encampments will do nothing more than move them. The vast majority of people who find themselves to be homeless did not choose to be in that position. Many of those on the streets suffer from an extreme mental illness, were impacted by a great financial loss or were born into their situation. How can these citizens get ahead when the system is made to set them back further?

If you or someone you love is experiencing homelessness, there are resources available for you. Here are some of the options available for those in need:

  • Community Alliance Center, 4001 Leavenworth St, Omaha, NE. (402) 341-5128
  • Together Center, 812 S. 24th St, Omaha, NE. (402) 345-8047
  • The Sienna Francis House, 1702 Nicholas St, Omaha, NE. (402) 341-1821

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