Homelessness Symposium Focuses on Rural Nebraska

By: Eamon O'Meara Email
By: Eamon O'Meara Email
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Kearney, Neb. -- State officials want to end homelessness in Nebraska. This year they are meeting up in Kearney instead of Omaha to talk about solutions.

The Departments of Veteran's Affairs and Housing and Urban Development began their 3 day symposium on Tuesday. The symposium was being held at the Holiday Inn in Kearney because they are discussing rural homelessness and the issues causing it.

Homeless provider groups from Nebraska and western Iowa came together to enhance communications and build partnerships to help strengthen their cause.

Last year they met in Omaha, but the VA and HUD felt it was important to come to Kearney.

"I promised the folks if we received funding again this year, we were going to bring it further west and make it more central to the state. Essentially, a coming together of all our homeless providers in the two state area and talking about best practices with homeless services, how to improve those services, and what's next," said Earl Redrick the HUD Field Office Director.

Thousands in central Nebraska are living without a home and any shelters they can go to are full, some with a wait list.

"Homelessness has an answer. It is housing with the kind of support that you need. It's definitely housing as a starting place," said HUD Executive Director Erin Porterfield.

Without any new locations, the nearest place homeless people from central Nebraska can go is Lincoln.

The Department of Veteran's Affairs sees this problem but knows it's too big for them to fix.

"The VA cannot end veteran homelessness alone, so we know we need a lot of different partners and we've seen about a 30 percent reduction in homeless veteran's statewide over the last two years," said Linda Twomey, the VA Mental Health Specialty Program Director.

These groups fighting homelessness came together in Kearney because many feel there isn't enough concern for the homeless situation in central and western Nebraska.

Redrick said, "The western part of the state has a feeling that sometimes they're ignored when it comes to program services and funding. The theme this year really is about rural homelessness compared to urban homelessness."

According to recent point in time studies, central Nebraska should be asking for as much assistance as Lincoln and Omaha get.

Tammy Juffs, the director of community services and community action partnership in mid-Nebraska said, "We in this area rank right up with Lincoln as far as inability to find affordable housing to get people in and we're actually worse off than Omaha."

Housing coordinator John Turner works both in Lincoln and central Nebraska and said he doesn't see any difference in the homeless situation.

He said, "Some of the communities that I've been in, they're dealing with the same issues that I see in Lincoln. So our goals are the same, it's just we kind of have to look at it a little bit differently when we treat the problem."

Redrick said in the time since last year, there has been a small decline in homeless numbers.

The groups hope to grow their fight against homelessness in central and western Nebraska.

With over 50 groups coming together, the general hope is to update the ten year plan to end homelessness. HUD is currently in its seventh year.

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