Improving Rental Housing in Omaha

Seventy-five diverse community leaders met on Nov. 27 to learn about and discuss the state of affordable, quality housing. OTOC leaders presented some solutions like a rental property and landlord registration, a housing ombudsman, an inspection pilot project, and , the most effective, a rental property inspection ordinance. The lively group had a good conversation about what these policies would look like and about the larger scope of affordable housing in Omaha. See this article to learn more about OTOCs recent work on housing and an inspection ordinance.



Mental Health Emergency Resources

Forty leaders, including representatives from National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), several mental health nurses and practitioners, and community members met to on Tuesday, Nov. 20 to hear about Region 6’s emergency resources. Guest speakers Mile Glasgow and Brett Mathis were present to educate the gathering about Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare.

Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare is responsible for planning, development, funding, monitoring and evaluation of behavioral health services in the five county area of Cass, Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties in eastern Nebraska. Services include mental health and substance use prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

Region 6 has developed some innovative ways to respond more effectively in a mental health crisis:

  • First response teams (police officers) are trained by Region 6 to recognize and respond accordingly to mental health issues. These officers are Certified Intensive Trained (CIT), so when a police officer encounters a situation they can’t handle, they can call in and say, “I need a CIT officer out here.”
  • A co-responder model would be when mental health professionals assist the police during incidents either in person or remotely from a control room.
  • Safe Harbor is a helpline manned by peers of a troubled individual who have personal experience with the problem. The police dept. has a peer support worker on staff.
  • Mental Health First Aid training is a program that is available to all. According to Mr. Glasgow and Mr. Mathis, it is a class everyone should take.
  • lists all the service providers under their umbrella, their locations and their specialties. Anyone can walk in off the street to any of these agencies to get help.  

Roughly 60% of inmates have mental health problems.  Most emergencies occur because people run out of their medications.  To prevent such problems, Region 6 has developed these future initiatives:

  • Psychiatric emergency system. Psychiatrists will see individuals within 15 minutes. This will often prevent incarceration.
  • Expansion of co-responder model.
  • Tele-help. In the emergency room, a psychiatrist can get people their medications straight from the emergency pharmacy through computer consultation.
  • Tele-corresponders. The creation of law enforcement facetime with crisis response out in the rural areas.

Of course, everything Region 6 does and wants to do requires money.  The average citizen can help by letting their legislators in the Unicameral know how important the money is that is appropriated for the Region 6 budget.

The speakers ended by saying that Region 6 is pushing toward the creation of mental health courts.  While the focus presently is on drug court and veterans court, mental health courts are in the planning stages.

Refugee Experience: the resettlement process, different immigration paths, and the refugee culture groups in Omaha

Cold temperatures did not deter forty OTOC leaders from showing up at the Urban Abbey  to learn more about the refugee experience from Alana Schriver, OPS Refugee Specialist. Despite the weather, the room was filled with old faces and new.

Ms. Schriver taught her listeners the difference between several terms:

  • Refugees –To be designated as a refugee, one must cross a national border to escape from war, violence, or persecution. Persecution is defined as a life or death situation.  Poverty is not a reason to apply for refugee status. Refugees are vetted in their country of residence and then by the country of destination- this takes years.
  • Asylum seekers –Individuals seeking asylum from war, violence, or persecution.  Asylum  is not granted to families. Each individual, regardless of age,  must prove that he/she is being targeted. Those seeking asylum are required to accept asylum from the first country that offers it.  For those who reach the U.S., no legal representation is guaranteed to help the seekers through the vetting process.
  • Asylee – Individuals for whom asylum has been granted.

5.5% of Omaha’s population are refugees from other countries. Omaha has the biggest population of Sudanese outside of Africa.  Lincoln has the biggest population of Yazidis outside of Iraq.  119 languages are spoken in the Omaha Public Schools.

Most Nebraska refugees are from refugee camps.  The average stay in a refugee camp is seventeen years.  Those who are born in the camps know no other way of life.  Coming to a country with different languages, different faces, and different customs is a difficult adjustment.  The newcomers must learn how to access the medical system and  transportation, understand  their responsibilities and rights as tenants and find a job within ninety days.  There are no financial safety nets for refugees who are new to the country.

Ms. Schriver closed her presentation with these action steps:

  • The Omaha Community could help its new neighbors by including them in fun activities: games in the park, block parties, outdoor concerts, or maybe a dinner at home.
  • Appreciate the diversity and the many contributions refugees are bringing to Omaha.
  • If there is something you would like to understand about their culture, it is okay to ask.  It’s not offensive to not know something about another’s culture, but it is offensive to deliberately not learn.

For more information on the refugee experience, go to 

OTOC leaders then presented some information about the migrant caravan heading to the US border to seek asylum. We should extend the welcome we give to refugees to those seeking refuge at our border. 

Please consider making calls to our Senators and Congressmen: 

  • We are opposed to the vilification of Central American women and their children who are fleeing violence from countries with the highest murder rate in the world to seek asylum in the U.S.
  • Surely women and children fleeing violence do not pose a threat to a country of over 300 million! 
  • Further — the US needs to treat all asylum seekers according to the United Nations Refugee Accord and U.S. law.

Please contact our members of Congress and demand that this practice end NOW. We need to also demand that asylum-seekers have the rights accorded to them by US law (Refugee Act of 1980) and under international agreements (Articles 31 and 33 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).

  • Representative Don Bacon   202-225-4155 & 402-938-0300
  • Fortenberry 202-225-4806 (some parts of Sarpy County)
  • Fischer  202-224-6551 & 402-441-4600 
  • Sasse 202-224-4224 & 402-476-1400              

Donations to support Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence

Catholic Relief Services staff are travelling with the Central Americans and providing support and medical care as needed.  Donations can be made to Catholic Relief Services (  Ask that your donation be a directed gift to the people of the Caravan Caritas Latin America.