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.
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
The Institute of Public Leadership (IPL) wants to make it clear how grateful we are to you, our supporters. Your contributions of time and money are making a difference, and we would like to show you specific examples of how this is true. Here is a list of people who our donors have invested in this year:
IPL Board Member Allison Latenser shares about the meaning of IPL in her life: ““The training I have received from IPL has enabled me to form a connection with different kinds of people from all over Omaha. Together we have discussed our concerns and our hopes for this city. We have identified possible action steps and informed ourselves through research. We have worked hard on our presentations and have approached our elected officials as a team to ask for their support in making positive change for the community.”
Your generous donations and a grant from the Omaha Community Foundation have made possible a new IPL project to teach refugees about their rights and responsibilities as tenants. Our goal is to teach refugees who are renters how to address housing issues so they have decent, safe homes and good relationships with their landlords. Understanding your rights so you can better stand up for them is part of the education philosophy of IPL and what we are teaching leaders to do.
IPL has hired three bilingual interpreters who were refugees and who have been in Omaha for several years as leaders. Our interpreters are Lah Wah who speaks Karen, Netra Gerung who speaks Nepali, Gilbertine Niyonzima who speaks Swahili and Kirundi. They give presentations to refugee communities in schools, churches, and resettlement agencies. One of the three, Gilbertine Niyonzima, shares her thanks for this program: “I am thankful to IPL for funding this education program for new refugees in the US, which teaches tenant and landlord responsibilities in a language he/she understands. I am privileged to help them understand things I was so confused about a couple of years ago. I am glad this program allows me to help my community and get paid to do it.”
This year IPL has had many interns thanks to your support. Over the summer, three students from Creighton worked with OTOC action teams and Executive Director Joe Higgs to learn about organizing and researching issues. We also had an intern from University of Nebraska Law School who helped develop the Refugee Rental Rights and Responsibility trainings. They all did amazing work and we hope to continue working with students in the future.
Our newest intern is Greta Carlson who is a part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a service corps organization that places young people in organizations throughout the country. She will be a part of IPL for an entire year and is working full time with us. She arrived in August from Texas and has been involved in Refugee Trainings, IPL leadership, OTOC Action Teams, communications, meeting people and building relationships, and learning how to handle the cold. Here’s a small snippet of why Greta is thankful for IPL:
“I am so thankful to IPL for giving me a job! But this is a lot more than just a job for me. I’ve truly enjoyed building powerful relationships, learning about the method of social change that IPL teaches and OTOC uses, and practicing skills I can use for the rest of my life no matter what I am doing. This whole year is like a training session for my life!”
Your support enables IPL to invest in many training opportunities for community leaders. We are part of several nonprofit coalitions which help us be more effective in our leadership and policy development work.
You help us send leaders each year to national training programs for community organizing through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Interfaith Education Fund, our own national network of community organizations. These week-long workshops allow emerging leaders to meet leaders from all over the US and learn the concepts and best practices of community organizing.
All of these training opportunities lead to personal growth for the individuals who attend and better equip our organization with the skills we need to have a real impact on the common good in Omaha. Here is a message from Charles Gould who is on the OTOC Housing Revitalization Action Team, OTOC Leadership Team, and attended an IAF National Training earlier this year:
“Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about organizing. I got to go to a national training this year where I learned the value of sharing the principles of organizing. I’m glad to be a part of an organization that is building community in a meaningful way by teaching those leadership skills.”
The Institute for Public Leadership gives leaders the tools they need to gain power and have a voice. This year, San Andres Lutheran Church, a Spanish-speaking church in South Omaha, became a dues paying member of OTOC.
Many members of the church are originally from El Salvador and have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), an immigration status given to Salvadorans living in the US in 2001 after an earthquake made it unsafe to return. Many of the 250,000 Salvadorans with TPS in the US have made their home in Omaha for the past 17 years. Now, the current administration may be ending TPS for people from El Salvador.
IPL trained leaders have been getting to know these new Leaders and are helping them share their stories through newspaper articles, community meetings and dinners so that they can grow the number of their allies fighting for their right to stay in the country. IPL is helping this group learn to better organize and have a collective voice. Pastor Sergio Amaya of San Andres Lutheran shares his thanks for the support and training:
“I am grateful that IPL and OTOC are helping Omaha get to know our Salvadoran TPS community. We have begun building relationships that will make our community stronger and a better place for us all. Our Salvadoran families are hard working, and most own their homes and have children who are citizens. We need your help to be able to continue to make Omaha our home.”
After being approached in 2016 by agencies who work with Omaha refugees, IPL has a new refugee training program that is educating refugees about their rental responsibilities and rights. The trainings are geared towards reducing the number of rental housing issues refugees are having. Through research done by OTOC intern Shannon Sein this summer, a curriculum has been developed to help refugees understand what a healthy rental agreement should look like, both in what they are expected to do as tenants and what their landlord is supposed to do. They talk about the importance of paying rent on time and what a security deposit is for, as well as tips on how to get it back at the end of your lease. Refugees can be taken advantage of if they do not what to expect and what their rights are, and we want to equip refugee communities to know how to handle these issues. Several trainings were done over the summer and will continue.
On August 15 and 16th, OTOC leaders Mark Hoeger and Karen McElroy and IPL Executive Director Joe Higgs joined community leaders from across the United States in Houston, Texas to discuss how to work across race and class lines in these polarized times. Karen, Mark and all of the eighty leaders and organizers present in Houston were part of organizations affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundations, the largest and oldest community organizing network in the United States.
The leaders met with Dr. Glenn Loury, Professor of Social Sciences and Economics at Brown University, and author of Race, Incarceration and American Values. Dr Loury is a leading scholar in the fields of economics, politics and social structures affecting African American communities in the US. Loury’s work documents the changing face of racism, from the end of Jim Crow laws, to the more recent impact of mass incarceration of people of color.
The meetings took place in the days immediately following the troubling events in Charlottesville and Loury emphasized that relying on identity politics is not going to result in meaningful change. Rather, he encouraged the leaders and organizers present to keep doing the patient work of organizing to build relationships across lines of race, class and culture in order to develop strong coalitions of people who will seek the common good of their community, not just narrow special interests.
Mark Hoeger notes that “it made me appreciate anew the importance of what we at OTOC/IPL in Omaha and all the IAF affiliate organizations across the country are doing” in regards to having structural organized efforts to equality through the democratic system.
To Karen McElroy, the experience was a way to explore what other organizations are doing and how OTOC can improve housing inequality, early voting, and post incarceration programs. On the days immediately after the racial violence in Charlottesville, we came away renewed in our commitment to the careful, patient work of building relationships.
Tom and Margaret Hoarty opened their gracious Country Club home for IPL’s annual fundraiser held in conjunction with Omaha Gives!, the 24-hour community giving day.
Over 100 people dropped by for food, drink and conversation with others who are working to make Omaha a more just community. Refugee cooks prepared great food, many contributed their favorite bottle of wine and there many fun people to meet.
IPL and OTOC leaders worked together to make this day a great success for IPL.
199 people gave online through Omaha Gives and another 20 gave by check
Of the 193 medium sized organizations, IPL ranked in the top 4% for the total number of donors
And IPL ranked in top 3% for the total amount raised by medium sized organizations
You gave over $31,000 to support our critical work training emerging leaders in our community—Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!
In one of the most exciting parts of the evening, IPL once again won a First Place participation award of $3,000. The award went to the medium sized organization with the greatest number of contributions during the last 8 hours.