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Memorials Set for Homeless Lost in 2018

Some Nebraska families are just a couple of paychecks away from facing challenges associated with homelessness. (Don Hankins/Flickr)
Some Nebraska families are just a couple of paychecks away from facing challenges associated with homelessness. (Don Hankins/Flickr)
December 18, 2018

OMAHA, Neb. — Services are planned this week to honor 87 people, including 11 veterans, who died this year while experiencing homelessness in eastern Nebraska. Omaha joins communities across the U.S. for the annual Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, set nationally for December 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.

Gerry Ford is a housing stability specialist with the group Together. He said the events are an opportunity for people left behind to say goodbye.

"Especially to those that have been on the streets and they've built bonds and relationships, a lot of times that's the only family they have or know,” Ford said. “This might be the only type of recognition or memorial or funeral type thing they get."

This year's official count identified 1,411 people experiencing homelessness in the Omaha metro area. Most of Nebraska's 2,300 homeless were located in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs while 144 persons were unsheltered, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's most recent Point-in-Time count.

Ford said as colder weather sets in, shelters are frequently stretched beyond capacity. He added that people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have a hard time being surrounded by large groups and often choose not to go inside.

"Sometimes where there's just not enough shelter beds, so they wind up in areas that aren't meant for habitation,” he said. “And when you get into severe heat and you get into severe cold, it has a big effect on how many people we're losing."

Ford noted that some become homeless after fleeing domestic violence, while others living on fixed incomes can't find affordable housing. He added that many Nebraska families are just a couple of paychecks away from facing similar circumstances.

Ford said it's encouraging to see people drawn to shelters to help hand out presents or serve meals during the holidays.

"Which is great, and the shelters need that and the community needs that,” he said. “But we need more people thinking of that on a Tuesday in the middle of June as well."

More information is available online at endhomelessnesstoday.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE