Construction begins on ‘desperately needed’ replacement for Siena-Francis House shelter

By Christopher Burbach / World-Herald staff writer
Nov 19, 2018

Construction is underway on a new shelter for homeless people at Siena-Francis House in north downtown Omaha.

Crews have completed soil remediation on the site, a former salvage yard northwest of 16th and Nicholas Streets. Now they’re moving on to foundation work on a shelter that will have beds for 350 men and up to 100 women, plus kitchen, dining, counseling, case management and common areas.

The new shelter will offer services in the daytime as well. Siena-Francis had already changed its policy of telling people that they had to leave the campus during the day.

The organization’s current shelters routinely operate over capacity. They have 220 beds for men and 40 for women, but Siena-Francis houses 325 to 350 men and 55 to 60 women per day, officials said.

“We hope to be in the building by December of 2019,” said Linda Twomey, executive director of Siena-Francis. “We’re so excited. It’s so desperately needed.”
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

The philanthropic nonprofit organization Heritage Services is leading an $18.9 million capital campaign to enhance programming, improve security and provide a more dignified shelter. The City of Omaha is contributing $2.5 million to the project.

“Every day, Siena-Francis House feeds, clothes, shelters and offers an array of services to Omaha’s neediest residents,” said Dan Neary, a Heritage Services board member and chairman of the capital campaign. “This new facility is vital to our region.”

The new shelter will replace worn-out, cramped shelter space that is inadequate for the community’s needs, Siena-Francis said.

“It will allow us to give every person seeking shelter a bed to sleep in, and not a mattress on the floor or a chair on the coldest days,” Twomey said.

Siena-Francis also provides free addiction treatment and other services. It offers transitional housing, plus permanent supportive housing for disabled and chronically homeless people. It serves more than 1,000 meals a day.

Eventually, the Siena-Francis building at 1702 Nicholas St. will be demolished. Twomey said that building, which currently houses the women’s shelter, will continue to house Siena-Francis’ Miracles addiction treatment program, some administrative offices and other functions for the next couple of years. What will happen after the building is demolished is yet to be determined, she said.

The new shelter will be north of the Baright Shelter building. That building is worn out after operating over capacity since it was built in 2003, Twomey said.

“We’ll look at renovating Baright after the new shelter is built,” she said.

The new shelter will not increase Siena-Francis’ overall square footage but will allow it to serve people better, Twomey said. Besides having enough beds, it will have a larger dining room area, more common space for people waiting for case management and other services, and better space for those services.

Siena-Francis leaders acquired the salvage yard and began planning a campus expansion in 2015. Heritage Services announced the current plan in March. Soil remediation work was completed in October.

“Concrete trucks have been coming in to put in footings,” Twomey said. “Now you’re really starting to see things going on that look like a building going in.”