OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A church in North Omaha is being converted into a treatment center for teens facing mental illness and substance use — something nearby residents say has them worried.
The Nebraska Youth Justice Initiative is converting St. Paul Lutheran Church at 50th and Grand into a residential treatment center that will house 22 teens. Blair Freeman, the contractors for the project, are also constructing two new buildings on the property to give a place for education and community involvement.
“This facility is really a unique, one of its kind, first of its kind facility in the nation,” said David Levy, an attorney representing Blair Freeman. “It brings together on one site behavioral health, formal education, residential, recreation, services and also includes working with the families.”
Charles Drew Health Center will be working with the center to provide treatment to the young people there. Kenny McMorris, CEO and president, says this is something the community needs right now, probably more than ever.
“The mental health, and the anguish, and the anxiety that many of the residents in our community are experiencing — access to quality care is so important,” McMorris said. “We think this is going to be a revolutionary project.”
Some residents in the area say they are worried about bringing troubled teens into their neighborhood.
“Everything around this area is a house, is a residence,” said Elisabeth Brockmeyer who lives nearby. “If this was in your neighborhood would you want this right in your backyard?”
The church is right across the street from an assisted living facility and many in the area are seniors.
“When this development comes to my community, I don’t know if I’ll be safe to have my door open, my garage door open,” said Diane Watson Hodges. “Frankly, I’m scared to death.”
Other residents say they don’t feel they were consulted enough about the development.
“Tell us all the truth, from the beginning,” said Linda Donaldson. “The truth when ya’ll started this project, from the date. Because ya’ll started it years ago.”
The developers say during the pandemic they reached out by email and postcards and offered contact information to the community.
In July, August and September they held sessions to get community feedback.
Councilmember Juanita Johnson who represents the area where the center will be agreed that more should have been done to communicate the plans.
“The how matters: how you were communicated with regarding this project does matter,” Johnnson said.
Johnson also said though that District 2 needs a center like this.
"I understand the shock of having this in our community is a little bit different; it's unusual,” Johnson said. “But we also have to be concerned about our youth."
The developers say after hearing from the community, they’re making sure the property is secured with fencing and will have overnight security patrolling in the area.