Despite some opposition from neighbors, the Omaha City Council approved a group home for youth involved in the justice system during Tuesday’s meeting. The city council also pushed back against criticism of police officers in schools and debated agreements with private contractors to oversee snow removal.
The Nebraska Youth Justice Initiative and Blair Freeman group requested two special use permits to operate a large group home at 5020 Grand Avenue and provide emergency residential care. The home will serve adolescents aged 12 to 18 years old who have experienced trauma and need treatment for mental health or substance use disorders. The project will be built at the former St. Paul Lutheran Church campus. Some residents of the North Omaha neighborhood said they felt the church was being desecrated and raised concerns about safety.
“Everything around this area is a house,” said resident Elisabeth Brockmeyer. “If this was in your neighborhood, would you want this right in your backyard?”
Another opponent, Linda Donaldson, said many of her neighbors didn’t receive notice of the project. She said the government needs to do a better job communicating with constituents.
Blair Freeman president Ashley Kuhn said community forums were held with neighbors to address questions and concerns. In response to safety concerns, they agreed to provide patrol from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Kuhn said their goal was to build a facility that fit the residential neighborhood.
The Charles Drew Health Center will help provide health care services to youth served at the facility, as well as a clinic for the community. CEO Kenny McMorris said it will be a “revolutionary project.”
The city council voted 4-3 to approve multiple agreements with private contractors for inspection of the city’s snow removal this winter. Councilmembers Danny Begley and Juanita Johnson joined Vinny Palermo’s opposition to the contracts.
Palermo said the city would be paying for “a contractor to babysit a contractor.” The inspectors would make sure that snow is removed from each street, and notify the city if there are any issues. Palermo said the contracts would be unnecessary if the city had enough employees.
City engineer Todd Pfitzer said the private contractors provide more trucks and employees than the city is able. He also said the contractors’ trucks are equipped with GPS tracking so public works can make sure they’re doing their jobs.
The city council held a public hearing on two agreements with Elkhorn Public Schools and Millard Public Schools to provide school resource officers from the Omaha Police Department. The vote will be held Oct. 26.
Councilmember Begley pushed back against criticism of police in schools. He said the resource officers not only provide security, but also educational services for students and staff.
Councilmember Palermo added that the presence of police officers allow students to develop a positive relationship with them. He told an anecdote of students greeting their assigned police officer at a basketball game as a sign of the greater connections a school resource officer can form with students
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to recognize the 135th anniversary of the incorporation of South Omaha as a municipality within the State of Nebraska. The board also celebrated the 134th anniversary of Omaha’s historic Mount Moriah Baptist Church, and received a weekly COVID-19 update.
Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh, who called himself an S.O.B (South Omaha boy), said South Omaha was known as the “Magic City” for its fast growth at the end of the 19th century due its world leading stockyards and meat production. He also recognized Gary Kasterick, a South Omaha historian, for leading an initiative to fund a number of murals representing the city’s diversity.
“I don’t think people understand the role [South Omaha] played in the development of this city,” Kasterick said.
The board also recognized Mount Moriah Baptist Church’s 134th anniversary. Commissioner Chris Rodgers said the North Omaha church will celebrate the anniversary and recent renovation with a ribbon cutting this Sunday.
“Through the years of social unrest, Mount Moriah continues to stand firm,” Rodgers said.
Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said that although COVID-19 cases are falling gradually, we’re not out of the woods yet. During her weekly update to the board, Huse reported that hospitalizations are still high.
According to the Douglas County COVID-19 Dashboard, the metro area hospital occupancy rate was 79% Monday night. Huse said the occupancy rate for the pediatric ICU was also still high at 89%. She said viruses other than COVID, like RSV, are contributing to the crisis.
Following the news that the FDA will allow ‘mix-and-match’ booster shots, Huse said they are still focused on vaccine outreach. She said the Baptist Pastor’s Council is hosting an event promoting vaccinations in North Omaha later this month, and activist Ben Salazaar helped coordinate a vaccine clinic in South Omaha for Dia De Los Muertos.