Homeless plan to return to Gene Leahy after revitalization project complete

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- As the city works to revitalize a downtown park, the reality of what’s ahead for the Gene Leahy Mall may not exactly fit the vision.

The Gene Leahy Mall is part of the city’s $300 million Riverfront Revitalization Project; along with the Heartland of American Park, and Lewis & Clark Landing, the park will get an overhaul.

Construction began on the Gene Leahy Mall in February. Up until that time, it was a popular place for the homeless community to spend their days and nights.

"It was pretty nice because there were a lot of homeless people who would hang out there and a lot of the time you could leave your gear there and someone would watch it for you,” said Greg Oberlander, who considered himself part a community at Gene Leahy Mall.

While considered by some to be somewhat of a home, it was viewed by others as becoming largely unusable.

But a facelift isn’t going stop the homeless community from returning, according to people who had met to receive a meal from a street outreach program Wednesday morning.

Timothy Greco is one of the organizers of the outreach.

"I think a lot of people will want to return to that park,” said Greco, who knows the ropes because he used to be on the streets. “I think it's a good thing that the city is doing because there's going to be more people over there, more locations to eat at, and more people to fellowship with."

The main reason for wanting to return to the park: safety.

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

With the mall no longer an option, people have spread throughout the city, doing what they feel necessary to stay safe.

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