Displaced by construction at Gene Leahy, homeless community seeks safety

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) Before the Gene Leahy Mall was closed for construction, a lot of people on the streets considered it somewhat of a home; as a group, they felt safe at the park.

A homeless man rests on a bench in near downtown Omaha on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. For people who once considered the Gene Leahy Mall their place of community, finding a safe place to rest has become tricky. ⁦(Tara Campbell / WOWT)

That all changed when work on a redevelopment project began earlier this year. For one thing, the homeless community is now spread throughout the city.

Timothy Greco is one of the organizers of a street outreach program that offers a meal to people every Wednesday morning.

“A lot of people are just finding a place to lay their heads down at night,” he said.

Greco said he used to be on the streets himself; he knows the ropes.

"A lot of the people are laying their heads out in public places where they can be seen so that they're safe and protected and not being hurt by anybody," he said.

Greg Oberlander considered himself part of a community at the Gene Leahy Mall. He said people there would watch out for each other.

“You had a lot of women on the street over there that guys like me were watching over and protecting, and it was just very nice,” he said. “Kind of cozy and like a little community."

Now, it’s different, Oberlander said.

“A lot of people are just going to open areas where they can be together — like here — to just be in the open so if something happens it will be seen,” he said.

Whether it’s on benches, in a park, or on a sidewalk, people say they will do what they have to in order to stay safe.

The Gene Leahy Mall is part of the city’s $300 million Riverfront Revitalization Project, which is expected to be complete by 2023. Work on the Gene Leahy Mall is slated to be complete by 2021.