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Sheltering Tree opens Papillion facility as need for developmentally disabled housing reaches 'crisis level'

More than 43,000 adults are living with developmental disabilities in Nebraska, 70% are living with aging caregivers.
Posted at 9:32 AM, Dec 27, 2023
  • Lucas Mathews enjoys his new apartment at Sheltering Tree's Papillion community

Lucas Mathews enjoys all the modern conveniences that come with his new apartment, at Sheltering Tree, a facility with 44 apartments for those living with developmental disabilities.

Mathews is one of the first residents to live in the organization’s Papillion facility since it opened last month, he said it beats the alternative.

“If this place wasn’t here I'd probably still be living with my parents,” Mathews said.

That’s where many people like Lucas find themselves according to Sheltering Tree’s executive director Denise Gehringer.

According to her, there are more than 43,000 adults living with developmental disabilities in Nebraska and 70% of them are living with aging caregivers.

“...We know as those caregivers age, these folks will need a place to live someday and that’s in the very near future.” Gehringer said.

Gehringer said the need for housing developmentally challenged adults is at a crisis level, even Mathews said he’s seen what can happen when people like him don’t have a place to stay.

“I've seen people on the roads, I know that they’re struggling, they don’t want to get a house because they have to follow rules.” He said.

Housing for those with developmental disabilities isn’t easy to come by, Gehringer has three facilities across the metro and they’re all full. 200 people are currently on a waiting list for more housing.

Lucas is thankful that he’s one of the few who found not just a new home, but a community.

“The more friends you make the more smiles you get the happier your life is,” he said.

Sheltering Tree has other locations in Bellevue and Omaha with plans to expand to Elkhorn in 2024.