OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On December 21, the longest night of the year, Siena Francis House and Open Door Mission remember those they've lost. Over 120 people who had experienced homelessness died this year.
Extreme cold, excessive heat, COVID-19, untreated illnesses, addiction and mental illnesses all took lives this year.
At Sienna Francis House, volunteers and community members placed faux candles in decorated sacks outside of their emergency shelter, while reading the names of those who had died this year.
Many of those lost had visited in the shelter and gotten to know the people working and staying there.
“It’s certainly not an overlooked to the people who were out in that audience, who have those relationships and really understood and got to know some of those members, those guests of Siena Francis House," said Chris Knauf, chief development officer.
The services aimed to go beyond the numbers, and remember the unique people the shelter community were mourning.
“Once you get in the doors and you start interacting with our guests, with our clients, what you’ll see is an incredibly gracious population," Knauf said. "People that really haven’t been given much in life, but are very happy for what they have and couldn’t be more grateful to the people that are trying to help them.”
At the Open Door Mission, over 120 pairs of shoes were lined up in their chapel. Shoes representing many women and men who had come through the mission doors at some point.
"They’ve either left the missions and addiction has taken over, or something has happened," said Gary Hughes, a graduate of the mission. "Their health has gone downhill because they’re not finding the help that they need or not getting the help that they need. So we’re here to celebrate their life and let them know that they’re not forgotten.”
Hughes says just a few years ago, he could have been one of those names on the list. But he found his faith and purpose at the Open Door Mission, where he now cooks for the guests.
But not everyone stays, and this year, he recognizes eight names on the list.
“When they leave, I don’t know if I’m ever going to see them," Hughes said. "When they leave that door, I never know if I’m going to get an email saying I’m never going to see them again.”
The services remind those working to end homelessness of the work still needing to be done.
If you know someone or see someone experiencing homelessness , you can always contact the Open Door Mission at 402-422-1111 or the Siena Francis House at 402-341-1821.
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