Tag Archives: SNAP

Apartments for the Homeless

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Once a month, Tiffany Le Colst teaches RentWise, an eight-hour class that educates new renters about the responsibilities of being good tenants.

“We go over scenarios that might come up and help clients decide how to best handle them. We ask, ‘Do you take the issue to the landlord? Do you deal with your neighbor directly? Or do you rectify the problem yourself?’”

For example: “Say there’s a music disturbance. We’d recommend they first approach their neighbor calmly about their concerns and try to come to an agreement. Ultimately, we want clients to build relationships with their neighbors and landlords so that they can keep their rental housing,” Le Colst says.

Her classes also teach renters their rights. “We make clients aware of what discrimination looks like, for example, and what to do if they find they are being discriminated against,” she says.

Le Colst’s role as teacher is one of her many duties as a landlord liaison for Together, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in the Omaha community. The organization was founded in 1975 to help the hundreds of Omaha tornado victims left without food and shelter. Today, it provides case management, financial assistance, employment assistance, financial education, and other resources to nearly 22,000 individuals and families struggling with housing each year.

According to the Open Door Mission, approximately 2,000 people are homeless in Omaha every night.

Le Colst’s primary objective is to help the homeless find and maintain affordable, safe housing through Together’s Horizons program. She spends much of her time conducting housing inspections on properties before her clients sign a lease. “Typically, I’m checking for proper ventilation systems in kitchens and baths, making sure smoke detectors are operational, looking for signs of pest infestations, and ensuring electrical outlets are working.”

But not all landlords want inspections done on their properties. Sometimes, she must explain to them, “I do inspections to make sure normal maintenance on the property is done and meets the health and safety regulations to make a home habitable.”

Mediation is another aspect of Le Colst’s liaison position. “A lot of times, clients have barriers to attaining housing, such as having a felony record or a prior eviction debt that needs to be paid off. We evaluate what they’ve been denied for, then deal with the issue or get an appeal process going in hopes that they’ll be approved and can move in.”

She also mediates between landlord and tenant when a problem arises, helping to find a mutually agreeable solution and avoid eviction.

Le Colst makes great effort to treat her homeless clients with dignity and respect, without judgment, and to help them find the resources they need to get on their feet.

“People are homeless for many reasons,” she says. “Some are on a fixed income. For those clients, I try to mediate the cost of housing and get them connected with other resources like SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. Others can’t work because of a disability, and I help them connect with SSI [Supplemental Security Income] or other forms of income to help. Still others are fully capable of working, and we work with an employment specialist to determine their interests and what they’re physically capable of doing and help them find a job. Each case is different.”

Le Colst, who was born in Omaha, grew up in Texas in a military family. She moved back in 2006, earned a real estate certificate, and started a career in property management, working with Seldin Co., Lund Co., and Habitat for Humanity of Omaha before joining Together in December 2016.

“I realized I wanted to do more in the housing industry, and I have a heart for helping people,” she says. “Working closely with landlords while being able to help homeless individuals and families find a safe place to call home is truly the most rewarding job ever!”

Le Colst says her work is often made more challenging by economic factors, such as the subprime mortgage crisis of the past decade.

Many people who lost their homes in the crisis have now become renters, Le Colst explains. “With these more stable families, landlords are comfortable with raising rents and rental standards, which is now pushing low-income families into the shelters. There just is not enough affordable housing in our community to meet the need.”

Property management companies in Omaha typically set renter income requirements at three to four times the amount of rent, Le Colst says, while the average rent increase is three percent annually. These factors create more barriers for fixed- or zero-income clients, such as those on Social Security, she adds.

Jessica Jones, program director at Together, believes Le Colst is doing great work to meet these challenges and further Together’s mission. “When I hired Tiffany as landlord liaison, the position was brand-new,” Jones says. “With her hard work and professional yet personable demeanor, Tiffany has grown her position to be much more than originally designed. She has grown Together’s landlord base, recruiting over 20 new landlords in 2017. She explains our Horizons program to landlords and breaks down stereotypes of homeless individuals. She advocates for our clients, while also keeping the landlords’ needs and rights at the forefront.”

Jones is optimistic that Le Colst’s efforts will pay off going forward. “It’s our hope that landlords will volunteer to come talk with the [RentWise] class, and will accept the class certificate from our clients in lieu of good credit or references, giving them another chance.”

Le Colst has another goal in mind: setting up a landlord mitigation fund. “The funds would provide financial assurances for landlords concerned about additional risks related to damaged property, non-payment of rent, or eviction costs,” she says. “These funds could be accessed to cover expenses that exceed a tenant’s security deposit.”

This insurance policy of sorts would likely bring more landlords on board and offer housing options for those facing the greatest housing barriers, Le Colst adds.

“It’s especially rewarding when you have someone homeless for 20-plus years walk into their own apartment for the first time…It’s a profound moment,” she says. “You realize they do want a special place they can call home. They’re no different than the rest of us.” 


Visit togetheromaha.org for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Best, Local Farmers Markets

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Krisha Goering has made a weekend visit to the farmers market a summer tradition for the last four years. The Millard mom, who often takes her own mother along for a little girl time, enjoys spending an hour or so each Sunday morning walking the farm stands at the Aksarben Village market and buying the bulk of the fresh groceries she’ll need for her weekly menu and beyond.

The veteran shopper says she heads to market each week with an action plan. “I know exactly what I’m going to get when I get there. I make a swing through the market with $20, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Goering says.

“I typically buy whatever’s in season. At the beginning of the summer, that’s asparagus and a variety of lettuces. Eggs are abundant [early summer], so I eat a ton of them, too. Come August and September, when the harvests are plentiful, I buy tomatoes two or three cases at a time for canning, and I grab a couple of bushels of green beans to freeze. I also buy cucumbers for canning pickles, as I haven’t had much luck growing [cucumbers] in my own garden.”

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Goering says she buys her fruits and veggies at the farmers market whenever possible, preferring locally-grown over store-bought, organic produce in almost every instance. “They’re simply more fresh and more nutritious. Store-bought goods just don’t ripen the same or taste the same.”

Visiting with her favorite vendors, some of whom she now considers her friends, is one of the perks of frequenting the same market each week, Goering says. “We chit-chat a bit, talk about our kids, share a little news…” she says. “These [farmers] are quality people. They work many hours a day and grow and sell wonderful product. I really respect them. But I don’t want to occupy too much of their time visiting, as I know they’re aiming to make new clients and I don’t want to cost them business.”

Omaha shoppers are fortunate in that they have three large outdoor markets from which to choose, all accessible by bus, bike, car, or foot. The Omaha Farmers Market at 11th and Jackson streets in Downtown Omaha is open every Saturday from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The Historic Old Market, which served as a city market for local produce vendors over a century ago, today offers more than 100 vendors selling everything from fruits and veggies and baked goods and dog treats, to teas and coffees and jewelry and toys. Great Harvest Bread, The Tea Trove, Big Kahuna Kettle Corn, and Cibola are a few of the names you’ll see each week.

The same group of sponsors that produces the Downtown Omaha market also organizes the farmers market held each Sunday at Aksarben Village, 67th and Center streets. More than 85 vendors participate in this market, which offers much more than produce as well. Goods from Goodrich Pottery, Honey Creek Creamery, and Soup-n-More can be found alongside fruits and vegetables from Birdsley Road Blueberries, Shadowbrook Farms, and Hillside Orchard, among many others.

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Both Omaha Farmers Market ventures participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which helps financially strapped families afford healthy food options.

A third farmers market is hosted Saturdays all summer long on the south side of Village Pointe Shopping Center, 168th and West Dodge Road. A wide variety of produce from farmers within a 150-mile radius is available, as well as food and gift items from Jisa Farmstand Cheese, C&C’s Bzzz Honey, Dance in the Wind Iris Garden, and dozens of other retailers. The shopping center hosts a fun family event, Harvest Fest, on the final day of the market October 5.

Browsing the flowers, arts and crafts, yummy treats, and unique gift items at the farmers market can make for a fun, leisurely outing for some shoppers. But for health-conscious grocery shoppers like Goering—there for the fine, locally grown produce and foods and not much else—here are several tips that can help produce a fruitful visit. (Sources: Krisha Goering, tasteofhome.com, and localfoods.about.com).

  • Go early for best selection of produce, thinner crowds, and to beat the summer heat. Go late for (again) thinner crowds and the best deals; some farmers discount items at the end of the day to avoid hauling them home.
  • If you’re new to the market, make a swing through just to get an overview of what’s there. (Some markets offer a map of vendors.) Don’t buy at the first stand you see; you may find better goods cheaper down the line and have buyer’s remorse.
  • Bring your own reusable bags. Reinforced plastic or canvas bags work best and make carting produce around more convenient. If you’re buying a lot, bring a wheeled cart.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen and bring a water bottle and your patience. You may have some waiting in line to do, and not all areas are tented with shade.
  • Be considerate of other shoppers. Don’t overstay your welcome at a busy stand, block the roadway with a huge stroller, or allow your dog to invade others’ personal space. Shopping in small groups is recommended.
  • Get to know your vendors during the market’s downtime. They may offer great food prep or cooking advice, share recipes, or give referrals to other vendors you’ll enjoy. They might also share their growing techniques or food philosophy.
  • If you’re looking to not break the bank, set a budget and stick to it. Make your grocery list beforehand and avoid impulse buys.
  • Respect the vendors. Selling their goods is their livelihood, and a farmers market is not a flea market. Don’t haggle on price. If you’re not willing to pay it, politely move on.

For more info on farmers markets in Omaha, visit OmahaFarmersMarket.com or VoteRealFood.com.

Local Farmers Markets

Omaha Farmers Market—Old Market

11th & Jackson streets

May 4 – October 19

Saturdays 8am-12:30pm

Omaha Farmers Market—Aksarben Village

67th & Center streets

May 5 – October 20

Sundays 9am-1pm

Village Pointe Farmers Market

South side, Village Pointe Shopping Center

168th & W. Dodge Rd.

May 4 – October 5

Saturdays 8am-1pm