The Siena Francis House, Nebraska's largest shelter, is once again experiencing massive overcrowding. But this time operators say its the worst they've ever seen.
Executive Director, Mike Saklar, tells Channel Six that the shelter, located at 16th & Nicholas, set new records last week.
“I’ve been here 11 years and we've always been critically overcrowded, but I've not seen it like this.” “It’s been beyond imagination what’s been going on here.”
In men's housing, there are 270 beds for more than 400 men who have been coming to the shelter each day. Saklar says in order to cope with the increase in people looking for a place to lay their heads, the staff is forced to have more than 100 men and women sleep on the floor or in chairs.
“We put mats on the floor, in the dining room, the lobby, and hallways,” says Saklar.
The women's shelter isn't faring much better. They have 70 beds and saw 108 women last week.
Brenda Finnegan is the assistant manager at the women's shelter.
“I don't know what's going on but the last three weeks it’s just been getting worse and worse.”
Finnegan is forced to turn people away who call looking for a place to stay. On Saturday, the shelter turned away at least a dozen people.
“It breaks your heart and I try to give them other numbers for the Stephen Center or the Open Door Mission,” says Finnegan. “You just pray that they're o.k."
Saklar believes the increase at the shelter is due to a variety of factors, but mainly the economy. He says people have stopped looking for work or aren't making enough with a part-time job to afford housing.
And for women, many times it’s domestic violence that has them seeking shelter. At least 70% of women at the Siena Francis House have experienced domestic violence in the last 30 to 90 days before they arrived.
Saklar says long term he hopes to expand housing in the area. But for now, the shelter needs donations, food, and more supplies to deal with the overcrowding.
For information on how you can help, visit the Siena Francis website below.