Omaha officials try to understand the complexities of homeless camps along Missouri River

Homelessness in Omaha is a big problem with no easy solution.
This week, Omaha police responded to complaints of tents blocking sidewalks downtown.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 10:52 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Trying to understand the complexities of homelessness, it becomes apparent that homelessness in Omaha is a big problem with no easy solution.

Omaha Police responded to complaints of tents blocking sidewalks downtown. Last month, the downtown shelter moved homeless campsites for safety reasons.

At the time, even though there were beds available inside the Siena Francis House, the men and women told 6 News they’d rather live outside.

“What you’re about to see is the way far too many people live because of addiction and behavioral health,” said Aaron Hanson, Republican candidate for Douglas County Sheriff.

Not far from where the College World Series is played along the Missouri River, there are dozens of campsites full of broken pieces and fractured lives.

“It’s obviously eye-opening,” said Mike Friend.

“I can’t get back to work because I have varicose veins.”

This man says he’s a veteran and has been on a waiting list for an apartment in Iowa since Valentine’s Day. He’s called this home for two months.

“Your hat says lost cause. You are not a lost cause,” said Hanson.

He asked us not to show him, but he wants us to hear him. He says he wants to be part of the solution.

“Do me a favor, partner. I want you to talk to the Community Alliance. It’s getting cold. I don’t want you living in a tent, ok?” said Hanson.

Aaron Hanson isn’t working today.

“We need to find a better way,” he said.

The Omaha Police sergeant, who is running for sheriff, wanted Douglas County Commissioner Mike Friend to see what he sees.

“It’s troubling and depressing. I think we need to figure out what our role is to help and do the best we can to put them in a position to at least have a chance,” Friend said.

Hanson said he doesn’t believe this is the sheriff’s responsibility or the police department’s, that it’s a team problem.

“It helps push other government partners. It pushes nonprofits. Pushes other layers of government,” he said.

“It’s a city of Omaha issue. As sheriff, I’d take the lead on having the homeless task force,” Greg Gonzalez said.

Greg Gonzalez is running against Hanson for the Douglas County Sheriff’s seat. Before he retired from the Omaha Police Department, he worked with the homeless task force.

“I presented to the chief back then, a lot of departments have homeless units police officers providing services, working with philanthropy to get services and jobs, that’s when we’re going to start moving the needed forward,” said Gonzalez.

“This is no way to live,” said Hanson.

The homeless man headed to Council Bluffs by foot to check on his housing after this conversation. There’s no word where he falls on the priority list.