Omaha neighbors, property owner clash over cleanup of homeless camp

The property owner says he’ll work on cleaning it up without taxpayer money.
A homeless camp near 90th and Grand in Omaha is proving to be a hazard -- and neighbors want it cleaned up now.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 10:24 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The number of homeless people living on the streets of Omaha has surged in recent years and it’s expected to grow with warmer weather.

A count by the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) shows that the population is now three-and-a-half times larger than it was just four years ago. The population grew from 46 people to 161 — and it’s not just a downtown issue.

Now neighbors are concerned about an abandoned homeless camp near 90th Street and Grand Avenue in northwest Omaha.

Leafless trees in the winter don’t hide an eyesore from a park and Keystone Trail that Chris King rides a lot.

“It’s disconcerting, for the safety of lots of older people walking and the garbage that’s only going to get bigger and bigger,” said Chris King.

Across the creek, an unoccupied homeless camp clutters private land and the city wants the property owner to clean it up. Concerned neighbors say they’re not equipped to do it.

“I’m 60 and I’m one of the younger people down on this end of town. This is going to take equipment and dump trucks,” said Nick McKenzie.

The land is owned by Dowd Properties. After leaving a message, Duane Dowd sent 6 News’ Mike McKnight an email saying when he’s asked occupants of the camp to relocate, they become hostile and aggressive.

The property owner says they are eager to clean the site when occupants are removed and the weather allows. Siena Francis House Outreach is trying to help.

”We will drop off trash bags, ask them to pick up their area,” said Janice Boos with Siena Francis Outreach. “We ask them to move along. A lot of that is engagement because most people in shelters are not trusting of systems.”

Though transporting the homeless to shelters miles away isn’t the issue, it’s getting them to stay.

“We have less people taking advantage of shelters and more people unsheltered on the street, so we really have to work on that disconnect and increase our strategies,” said Jason Feldhaus with MACCH outreach.

But neighbors want action now.

“Nobody is living here right now so kicking the homeless out of here isn’t an issue, this is the time to come in here and clean this mess out of our neighborhood,” said Nick McKenzie.

The mess is more than a makeshift tent. There’s a grill and multiple signs of fires which are a concern for a dry and windy spring to come.

Potentially the residents of the homeless camp are concerned about fire because they have a fire alarm control system. It looks brand new and is still in the wrapper.

6 News sent a picture to Associated Fire Protection which valued the panel from $1,500 to $2,000. A snow blower also indicates items collected here aren’t just for getting by.

Fren Mata owns an auto repair shop on the hill above the homeless camp.

“They’ve broken windows and I’ve found materials where they’ve lived in the cars back there,” said Mata. “So it’s more of a health concern than anything.”

Neighbors say they understand why some homeless enjoy shelterless independence.

“It’s a blessing to keep because we don’t really have nothing, and people give us things we don’t have, so it’s a blessing people help us out,” said one homeless woman.

But what they collect and leave distracts from the lifestyle of those who have a permanent investment in the neighborhood.

The city sent a notice to the property owner to clean the mess in early December. Though past the deadline, the owner acknowledged he’ll get it done saving taxpayer money.

However, if there’s no progress when the weather improves, the city can clean up the camp and bill the landowner.