OMAHA (KPTM)- When the temperature drops, the head count rises at the Siena Francis House. It's one of the busiest homeless shelters in the area. Record numbers of people in need means a tight fit for guests, and extra work for employees.
Siena Francis' Executive Director, Mark Saklar, says this may be one of the toughest years he's seen in his 11 years working for the shelter. "Experiencing these numbers is very stressful. Not only on the guests, but also on the staff, on our supplies, on our food."
In the last three weeks, the shelter has broken its attendance record three times. Last week, it broke 500 guests for the first time in the nearly 40 years the shelter has been open. There are only 350 beds.
"We're very concerned. If we're hitting record high numbers now, what's going to happen at the end of December and early January," worried Saklar.
He says the problem is that it's hard to turn people down. "We can't look at a mother with 4 kids and turn her away." He also knows the weather and a tough economy aren't helping. They do try to send some people to other nearby shelters.
To make room, Saklar says some are forced to sleep on the floor and on mats. "The conference room is filled to the brim and we flow out into the hall and into another conference room every night," explained Saklar.
Ebony Dishmon has been staying at the shelter for several weeks with her 3- year-old daughter. They were lucky enough for a bed near a bathroom to help her daughter's progress with potty-training. The women's center is at 200% capacity.
"It's gotten a little chaotic you know, we're very packed," said Dishmon. "They just started coming as the weather changed."
Now, safety at the shelter is a top priority. "We could have a huge problem trying to keep everyone safe," said Saklar.
"We've been talked to about getting along with each other and trying to manage and live amongst each other," explained Dishmon.
Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church employees say they have also had record turnout at their weekly food pantry. Monday, they had more than 450 guests.
To help with needed items this season, log on to the following websites to find donation information.