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Sign seen in front of Old Market businesses creating controversy

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Posted at 2:35 PM, Jan 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-17 10:23:22-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A sign seen in front of two businesses in the Old Market is creating a stir on social media.

A sign outside of Gulliver’s World Goods warned people “don’t feed the wildlife” while showing a cartoon drawing of a homeless person underneath. The same sign was also seen in the window at nearby SG ROI Tobaccionist. The signs have since been removed.

Gulliver's World Goods took to Facebook on Saturday to say the employee responsible for the sign at their shop was terminated.

“We are shocked and devastated at the extremely poor judgment choice that an employee made yesterday. This was brought to our attention this morning and we need to address this cruelty to humanity,” the business wrote on Facebook. “We are a family-based company that does not tolerate hate and strives to support local in every way we can.”

SG ROI Tobaccionist wrote on Facebook a word-for-word copy of Gulliver's apology, saying "disciplinary actions have been taken and we are overwhelmingly disheartened on this severe lapse in judgment."

Chip Allen, President of the Old Market Association, said the association does not condone the messaging of the signs and is working with local groups to try to address the issue of homelessness in the area.

“I was disappointed when I was made aware of the signage," Allen said. "I find that there’s better avenues, I think to be able to communicate a situation. But not even communicate a situation but be a part of the solution and help make it better.”

Because the Old Market is an arts and entertainment district, there are no rules about what signage can be posted in independent business according to Allen.

Debra McKnight, founding pastor of Urban Abbey, says like many of her neighbors, she works with local shelters to connect those individuals in need with resources. Sometimes though, law enforcement has been called if someone is aggressive.

“I grieve that those signs were put up," McKnight said. "I grieve that those business owners felt the need to put them up. I think they’re dehumanizing, and I think the solution is harder than a sign.”

McKnight says taking down those signs is not the end-all-be-all solution here. But that there is a deeper issue of homelessness in the Old Market that the city needs to be working harder to address.

“The sign reminds us that we need a major investment by our community, by our city for affordable housing, for access to mental healthcare," McKnight said. "It reminds us that we need an investment in some of the models that other cities have been using like housing-first models.”

Allen agrees that larger conversations about how to help individuals experiencing homelessness need on a city-wide basis.

“There needs to be recognition that safety is number one in mind, but not only safety for individuals that are coming out that are patrons of the Old Market and patrons of other areas of the city, it’s the safety of the homeless population as well," Allen said. "They’re in a bad situation, we need to be cognizant of that; we need to be compassionate toward that, and work to be part of the solution.”

Gulliver's World Goods also posted that they are brainstorming ideas to help the area's homeless population. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are over 2,400 people in Nebraska who are homeless on a given night.

"We hope to have the opportunity to show our true character and implement positive change in Omaha," the post read. "The activism in our Omaha community is strong and we want to be a part of the positive conversation using this attention to shed light to the helping homeless community."

If you would like to get involved in their efforts to help the homeless, send Gulliver's World Goods a message on Facebook.

Our reporter visited both shop today to discuss the signs and what their plans are to work toward solutions. Gulliver's World Good was closed today and SG ROI Tobbaconist did not want to comment.

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