Siena Francis House officially opened an $18 million, 43,000-square-foot emergency shelter in Omaha on Dec. 11, easing overcrowding. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Siena Francis House opens new emergency shelter

Joy Bass escaped the abuse of a boyfriend, thanks to the Siena Francis House in Omaha.

She didn’t have nearby family or friends to turn to, but the homeless shelter provided safety, a place to sleep, food and other help, she said.

Still, her situation has been far from ideal. Without a home or transportation, keeping a job has been tough, she said.

And until recently, because of space constraints at Siena Francis, the 42-year-old had been sleeping on a mat on the floor. The tight quarters in the women’s area sometimes made personality conflicts flare, she said.

But a new emergency shelter building at Siena Francis is helping to ease those problems for Bass and others at the shelter.

The $18 million facility, at 1117 N. 17th St., officially opened Dec. 11, and guests began moving in Dec. 12. Heritage Services, a nonprofit philanthropic organization raised most of the funds for the building. The City of Omaha also contributed.

With more available beds, a larger dining room and other improvements, the shelter is better able to “serve people with the respect and dignity they deserve,” said Tim Sully, development director at Siena Francis.

Previously the shelter had 262 beds and guests often had to sleep on the mats, especially during extreme cold. Now Siena Francis has beds for 450 people and should be able to more comfortably accommodate all those who seek shelter, he said.

The old dining room at Siena Francis could seat 84, while the new one seats 150, Sully said.

Case managers who help people out of homelessness now have offices in the emergency shelter, providing easier access for the guests.

Siena Francis employs 63 people, and more than 3,000 people volunteer there over the course of a year, Sully said.

Kay Moore and Harold Patsios unload kitchen supplies at the new emergency shelter at the Siena Francis House in Omaha. Moore is a volunteer at the homeless shelter; Patsios is kitchen manager. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

Last year Siena Francis served 431,533 meals and gave emergency shelter to 3,435 people without a home, said Linda Twomey, executive director.

About 5,600 people experienced homelessness in the Omaha metropolitan area, she said, and more than 60 percent received help from Siena Francis.

Bass said she packed up her clothes and left everything else behind when she fled from her Omaha apartment to the shelter a year and a half ago. She said she hopes to be able to leave Siena Francis, find her own place to live again, work and “get back on my feet.”

“Being in a shelter is something very difficult to deal with,” Bass said, but having more space, beds and better living conditions in the new emergency shelter will help.