IPL hosted an event with OTOC Leaders and The National TPS Alliance of Nebraska Saturday April 6th for a bilingual workshop at First United Methodist Church. The event hosted over 75 people who were inspired by live testimonies of real TPS holders. Temporary Protected Status is an immigration status given to those who can not return to their countries of origins due to arm conflicts, natural disasters, epidemics, or any other temporary special conditions.
There were 2 workshops happening at the same time- one in Spanish for TPS recipients about how they could be a apart of the TPS Committee of Nebraska and work on advocacy efforts. The other session was for English speaking allies to learn about TPS and how to support our local immigrant families.
Both English and Spanish speakers who attended the event learned about the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 which was presented to the House and the Dream Act and Secure Act in the Senate, which would provide long-overdue stability for Nebraska families and communities by offering a pathway to Permanent Residency and eventually Citizenship in the US for both DACA and TPS beneficiaries.
There were several opportunities to hear stories and speak individually with TPS recipients, and build relationships of friendship and support, as well as to take action with each other.
The event focused on 3 action steps that each attendee volunteered to take outside of the workshop that would create impact and awareness in our city.
By committing to making calls and sending letters/emails to Political Leaders in our community.(Talking Points; Support for Temporary Protected Status migrants and requesting leadership and co-sponsorship for Permanent Residency, To not remove the TPS program since it has helped refugees and immigrants since 1999 and can still save lives in the future, fight against deportation and family separation, legislative reform for immigration laws, provide immediate protections and authorizations for asylum seekers.)
Sharing the National TPS Mission and the testimonies of TPS holders to other Organizations, congregations, and schools, helps show light to this economically impacting issue.
Attending other immigration events and planning meetings. The next Immigration and Refugee Action Team meeting is April 22 at 6 pm at Augustana Lutheran Church (3647 Lafayette Ave.)
35 leaders met at Urban Abbey on February 28 to hear from Ken Smith, lawyer with Nebraska Appleseed about the state of payday lending in Nebraska. With the passage of LB 194 in last year’s legislative session, a few small steps were made to close a loop hole that could allow payday lenders to register as “Credit Service Organizations,” give a once-a-year payment plan option, and require more reporting to the Nebraska Department of Banking. The first report came out in December 2019 (view it here). See our analysis here of what this report shows about the status of where payday lending happens, how many loans are made, what people have to pay, and the average percent rate of 404%.
Ken Smith also asked supporters to practice how to respond to common arguments for payday lenders:
Payday lenders offer a valuable service to people who can’t go to other lines of credit.
Response: This is a good notion, but the issue is that fees are too high and don’t follow the basic parameters of other loan products. There is a lack of transparency in what you are signing on to and what your options are.
There are no alternatives to these types of loans
Response: There are some loan alternatives from some credit unions and nonprofits. See the Community Hope FCU in Lincoln and a nonprofit start-up in Omaha (still working on getting their credentials to offer low-interest loans)
Government should not make a habit of putting an industry out of business. The market should regulate itself.
We are not trying to put payday loans out of business, but just putting in reasonable requirements on loans. If you can’t meet those requirements, maybe you shouldn’t be in business. The Legislature actually exempted these companies from usury laws, which all other lenders have to follow, so we just want payday lenders to follow the same rules as everyone else.
The evening started with a few minutes of the Frontline documentary Last Days of Solitary which shows the Maine solitary confinement system and the changes they’re made. The film really shows the inhumane conditions prisoners live in when they are considered a treat to other prisoners and staff, and are put in what Nebraska calls “Restrictive Housing.” Restrictive housing is defined as less than 12 hours out of the cell in a week. In Nebraska, the cells are 8 ft. by 10 ft. and include a bed, desk, toilet, and chair. Because of the massive overcrowding, inmates in restrictive housing are often doubled up in the small cell. There are currently 325 inmates in restrictive housing in Nebraska, and ten have serious diagnosed mental health issues.
Climate Change Issue Cafe
60 people gathered on February 26 to hear from Stonie Cooper, a state climatologist and meteorologist, about climate change and it’s affect on Nebraska
Rental Housing Coalition Issue Cafe
40 people gathered at the Urban Abbey for an issue cafe about the current status of code enforcement and efforts for proactive policy change. OTOC leaders and housing coalition partners presented how the current code enforcement system works (and doesn’t work), the proactive registration and inspection policy we promote, what ordinances and policies are being drafted and discussed by local and sate policy makers, and how we as citizens can a raise a voice to be a part of that policy decision. Attendees heard from Beth, a tenant recently displaced from her home because of substandard conditions. If Beth’s rental home had been inspected regularly and the landlord keeping up the property, Beth and her daughter would still have a home and fewer major health problems due to mold and cockroaches. Erin Feichtinger of Together explained the politics of the current situation- LB 85 still sits waiting for a vote in the legislature, with Omaha City Council and the Mayor drafting various ordinances. Until the ordinances become public, we still encourage community members to call their city council member and their senator affirming the need for rental inspections, so that as proposals are brought forth, all policy makers know what Omaha needs. The city council will be hearing several ordinances on March 5.
Solitary Confinement and its Affects on Mental Health Issue Cafe
Seventy-five IPL, OTOC and community leaders heard from Doug Koebernick about Solitary Confinement in Nebraska and the harmful affects concentrated isolation has on mental health on February 5th
There are many factors that lead to having such a large number of inmates in restricted housing:
Restricted housing is supposed to be for the protection of other inmates and staff, so you get put in when you’ve done something dangerous. There is no set amount, you just get reevaluated every 90 days on if it is safe to bring you back to the general population. 114 inmates have been there for over 180 days. Some inmates do not know why they have been sent there, and are not able to advocate for themselves.
Overcrowding and the older facilities that have less common and classroom spaces have lead to less programming available for any type of restorative justice approach to help people before they get sent to solitary, while they are in there to get out faster, or for any sort of reintegration process.
Overcrowding leads to many more issues like less oversight and lack of space to attempt any type of reform. The state penitentiary is twice as full as it was designed for, and also has twice the number of staff.
Negative Effects of Restrictive Housing:
Psychological damage and mental health from lack of human contact and extreme boredom. Often leads to self mutilation.
Impacts future behavior. Though this is supposed to be for the safety of others, the failing mental health while they are in can lead to more violence when they get out.
Disproportionately affects Spanish and Native American inmates.
Negative impacts on staff safety and mental health as well as retention and recruitment.
Links to more info on Solitary and the Frontline Documentary:
IPL has helped OTOC and several housing agencies and tenants organizations work together to research and promote proactive rental inspections for the health and safety of rental properties and renting families in Omaha. See the work being done as policy is shaped and we work for community voices to be heard in the decision making process
Issue Cafe: Coalition Building:
Tuesday February 19 at 6:45 pm Urban Abbey, 1026 Jackson St.
Join OTOC leaders and other housing experts to learn how we can reform our broken housing code enforcement system. Learn what solutions are being proposed at the Unicameral (LB85) and at the Omaha City Council. Our elected officials will make decisions over the next month that affect the health of families and vitality of neighborhoods for years to come. Find out more and how you can help shape those decisions
Press Coference: #WeDontSlum launch
Join us for the unveiling of the #WeDontSlum campaign and website. This website and hashtag are a place for tenants and neighbors to share photos of the substandard rental units they live in or nearby and to send the message that substandard rental housing cannot be ignored. Visit the website today :www.wedontslum.com
Op-Ed in Omaha World Herald
IPL trained leader Dennis Walsh and Restoring Dignity Executive Director Hannah Wyble published an op-ed in the paper outlining what an effective housing policy should have to prevent the furthering of substandard rental housing.
And in case you missed it, here’s the editorial cartoon from Sunday, Feb. 9 titled “There goes the neighborhood”:
Educating the Public on Inspection Policies
IPL is educating the Omaha community as well as City Council and State Senators about what an effective policy must have while the City of Omaha drafts a City ordinance to head off action by the Unicameral on Sen Wayne’s LB 85 which requires the City to register and periodically inspect all rental property in Omaha.
The Mayor and Council will make decisions over the next two weeks that will affect the health and safety of families and vitality of our neighborhoods for years to come.
Talking points- What we believe must be in place for real rental property reform:
Require registration of all rental properties. The city tracks who owns cats and dogs but does not track who owns rental property. Omaha should emulate Council Bluffs, which uses stiff fines for non-registration to attain an estimated participation rate of 85 percent. Registration data must be online, easily accessible and include records of code violations and all names of LLC owners.
Inspect all registered properties periodically to identify unsafe and unhealthy conditions. If the city conducted 13,000 inspections per year, that could cover all rental properties in three years if random sampling was used within multi-unit properties. Landlords with good track records should be inspected less often than landlords with poor ones. City staff testified at the public hearing on LB 85 that eight to 15 new inspectors would be needed for inspections on a three-year cycle. That is effective and manageable.
Use modest registration fees to fully fund the system. An annual registration fee on landlords averaging $2.55 per unit per month would generate $2.1 million per year devoted to proactive code enforcement, at negligible cost to either landlords or tenants. That is affordable.
Make the education of tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities an essential function of code enforcement. Start by requiring each rental property to display a poster in appropriate languages with contact numbers for code enforcement and supportive agencies. Education plus inspections are needed to ensure health and safety, just as in the food industry. Health impacts of poor housing can be worse than consuming bad food. We have rules for inspections of food producers that serve public health quite well.
Go back to court to get the changes needed to run proper code enforcement. City staff says that, because of a 2015 consent decree, sometimes they spend one hour conducting an inspection, but then two hours at the office filling out paperwork. In contrast, Council Bluffs inspectors spend almost all day in the field, and support personnel complete paperwork. The consent decree allows the city to seek changes to accommodate “changes in circumstances, or administrative operating efficiencies.” Now is the time to gain these efficiencies.
Training leaders to Testify at State Hearing for Rental Inspection Bill (LB 85)
On Tuesday January 22, the Urban Affairs Committee of the Nebraska Unicameral heard citizen testimonies on LB 85, which would require Omaha and Lincoln to develop a Rental Property Registration and Inspection Ordinance to ensure minimum health and safety standards are met in all rental properties. IPL trained leaders testified in support of LB 85 along with tenants and other organizations like Restoring Dignity, Together, Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, and others who submitted written testimony. WOWT, KETV, Omaha World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and 1011 Now all provided news coverage of the hearing.
Friday February 8th, Missioning Prayer and Despedida (Send-Off)
This past Friday, over 100 leaders from IPL, OTOC, and the TPS Alliance of Nebraska gathered to hold a Prayer Service that celebrated both culture and faith for the 9 members of the Omaha community who are representing Nebraska at the TPS Summit in Washington DC from February 10—February 13. The Opening prayer and focus statement were given bilingually by Pastor Juan Carlos Veloso, along with Fr. Chris Saenz, who gave the Blessing to the travelers.
The group traveling to Washington DC was made up of 6 TPS holders, 2 seniors in high school who are the US citizen children of TPS holders, and a Creighton University student. The group flew to Washington DC on Saturday and is currently participating in advocacy, leadership training, and the March for TPS Justice on Tuesday, Feb 12.
IPL helped organize testimony surrounding Tax Increment Financing for Omaha landlord, Dave Paladino. Paladino Development Groups has thousands of low-income units that rent to a wide range of tenants, including many refugees. In the unprecedented hearing, over ten opposing testimonies shared stories of Paladino’s treatment of tenants and business practices, lack of maintenance and upkeep, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions. TIF cases tend to be automatically approved, but the city council, who listened for over an hour and a half to emotional, moving testimony, voted to postpone to vote for three weeks. They want to look into TIF approval laws, which currently do not allow decisions to be made based on the applicant’s other business practices. Click hear for complete Omaha World Herald coverage of the TIF hearing.
IPL continues to research Omaha’s substandard rental housing and complaint-based code enforcement system, and looking at national best practices, especially a proactive inspection ordinance. Leaders continues to call the City of Omaha to adopt a rental registration AND inspection ordinance so that all rental properties are routinely inspected. The testimony at this hearing showed city council and city staff that Yale Park is not the only substandard property in Omaha. Council member Pete Festersen said in his remarks that the City Council Planning Committee, which has been meeting regularly since Yale Park last September is getting ready to release it’s recommendation on what the city can do to address substandard rental housing. It is clear the tides are turning in the city, and that there is growing attention to substandard rentals and city code enforcement. The question is, when the committee’s plan is released, will it prevent another Yale Park?
Mental Health Emergency Resources
Tuesday, Nov. 20th at 6:45 pm
Hear from Miles Glasgow of Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare about their emergency response programs to help provide mental health services during high stress situations. Information about Mental Health support and education programs will also be available.
Improving Rental Housing in Omaha
Tuesday, Nov. 27th at 6:45 pm
As Yale Park Apartments illustrated, substandard housing in Omaha is a plague on neighborhoods and families. OTOC leaders will discuss the continued state of substandard rental housing and measures our community can take. Since we are all stakeholders, let’s organize to ensure public health and safety.
Refugee Experience: the resettlement process, different immigration paths, and the refugee culture groups in Omaha
Cold temperatures did not deter forty comunity from showing up at the Urban Abbey to learn more about the refugee experience from Alana Schriver, OPS Refugee Specialist. Despite the weather, the room was filled with old faces and new.
Ms. Schriver taught her listeners the difference between several terms:
To be designated as a refugee, one must cross a national border to escape from war, violence, or persecution. Persecution is defined as a life or death situation. Poverty is not a reason to apply for refugee status. Refugees are vetted in their country of residence and then by the country of destination- this takes years.
Asylum seekers –
Individuals seeking asylum from war, violence, or persecution. Asylum is not granted to families. Each individual, regardless of age, must prove that he/she is being targeted. Those seeking asylum are required to accept asylum from the first country that offers it. For those who reach the U.S., no legal representation is guaranteed to help the seekers through the vetting process.
A few months a year, the Urban Abbey, a coffe shop/bookstore/Methodist Congregation partners with OTOC, IPL’s sister organization, as community partners. As community partners in June, OTOC receives 10% of the coffee bar sales in the month (drink up in June!) as well as hosts learning opportunities at the Abbey with IPL. This June action teams are hosting four great Issue Cafes to learn more about some issues they are working on. Please join us at any and all of these events, and learn about issues affecting Omaha families.
Events are located at Urban Abbey, 1026 Jackson Street
– June 5: How we can change the Narrative for Substandard Rental Housing. 6:45-8 pm
Join leaders to hear stories and statistics from housing experts about substandard rental housing in Omaha and what we can do to change that situation together. Learn what LaVista and other cities are doing to make sure rental housing meets basic safety codes.
– June 13: Nebraska Medicaid Expansion: Now it’s up to You. 6:45-8 pm
Join leaders to learn about why Nebraska needs to expand Medicaid, the current petition drive, and how you can get involved today to help give all Nebraskans opportunities for affordable health insurance.
-June 19: A Merciful Alternative to Payday Lending. 6:45-8 pm
The Payday Lending Action Team will sponsor a presentation by Jerry Byers of Community Debt Solutions about an experimental, non-profit alternative to payday lenders that would offer short-term, small-principal loans to borrowers with limited access to credit.
– June 28: What is the Ban the Bag Campaign? 6:45-8 pm
Join environmental sustainability leaders to hear from Omaha City Council members Ben Gray and Pete Festersen about the Ban the Bag ordinance being introducing that would ban plastic grocery bags in the city of Omaha.
Each year, IPL participates in Omaha Gives!, a charitable giving day through the Omaha Community Foundation. To help celebrate giving and IPL, the Board of Directors and Advisory Boards hosted an After Work Gathering on May 23, the Omaha Gives! day. One hundred forty people gathered at Hardy Coffee at the new development in North Omaha, Seventy Five North. We were excited to partner with Seventy Five North to show off their new facility and the great work they are doing in the North Omaha community. Several local refugees made delicious foods for the crowd to try, and no one left hungry. During the event, attendees had an opportunity to give online through the Omaha Gives! website, and give they did! Thank you so much for your contributions to IPL during Omaha Gives for our continued work in the community.
185 Donors gave $18,495 through the OmahaGives site
32 Donors gave $15,000 by check or OCG account as Challenge
For at Total of: 217 Donors gave $33,495 during OmahaGives—our highest total ever
$522 Cash and Contributions (so far) after OmahaGives and
$1000 First Place Participation Prize for 4 pm to Midnight—We did it again!
for OmahaGives 2018
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you
We also ranked very well among other organizations:
We won First Place for Medium organizations during the 4 pm-12 am time period
We were 5th Place overall for Medium Sized Organizations (Top 2%)
We were 4th Place of 58 Social Advocacy Organizations (Top 5%)
We were 40th of 950 Total Organizations (Top 4%)
Scroll down to see pictures from the After Work Gathering.
Photo credit to AJ Olnes, Creighton University senior
Executive Director Joe Higgs and Project Intern Greta Carlson spoke as part of the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series (SLPS) at Metro Community College about how to use organizing for environmental sustainability. Over 100 faculty, staff, and students watched the webinar in universities across the state of Nebraska. The presentation taught about how leaders can use the cycle of organizing and organizing practices to organize their communities and enhance their sustainability efforts by growing power through their community. Joe Higgs used the example of how IPL trained OTOC leaders formed their environmental Sustainability Action Team to work on local environmental issues in Omaha. OTOC leaders first kept hearing that people were concerned about environmental issues after a great flood in 2011. Then, at an issues conference, enough people were interested and willing to take leadership, that an action team has formed and is now working on issues like the city’s new waste contract and potential ban on plastic bags. These issues use power to talk to and influence city council members as they create policies that affect the environmental sustainability of Omaha.
To view IPL’s presentation online, follow this link.
To learn more about Metro’s SLPS program, follow this link.