Young people experiencing homelessness often feel like they have nowhere to turn. Their need is great, and Omaha’s Youth Emergency Services (YES) knows that as well as anyone. The Omaha nonprofit is solely focused on helping homeless and near homeless youth in the community. It provides support and skills training to individuals who find themselves without a stable living situation.

YES recently received a grant of $2.175 million from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) to assist with a project to shelter homeless youth. The project is located near transit so that youth can readily access employment opportunities. YES also offers onsite case management services to set up residents for success.

“As a state, we’re connecting young Nebraskans to career opportunities through mentorships, internships, and scholarships,” said DED Director K.C. Belitz. “Yet for some young adults, we must first provide for the basic need of safe and secure housing. YES is helping to meet this critical need, while working alongside youth to empower them for life success. DED is grateful to support this worthy nonprofit as it serves young Nebraskans.” 

The award YES received was part of $40 million in grants DED awarded to agencies for affordable housing in Qualified Census Tracts (QCTs) in Lincoln and Omaha. A total of 1,255 housing units are expected to be created or preserved through the grants. All 25 of the awarded projects in Lincoln and Omaha will utilize local contractors and small businesses from within the QCTs, amplifying the grants’ economic impact.

Kalisha Reed, executive director of YES, said the DED grant “will definitely strengthen our process.” Specifically, it will allow YES to consolidate its nine housing locations into one, while enabling the nonprofit to serve more individuals. 

During 2023, YES provided support to 354 children and young adults. With the DED award, YES anticipates exponential growth in that number. Currently, the organization has an emergency shelter service that can house five people for 45-60 days each. Its transitional living program can provide bedrooms and a common living space for 15 people for up to 18 months. A third arrangement provided by YES, maternity housing, can take care of ten individuals. The new facility will increase housing at YES to 56 total units, including an expansion from 5 to 16 units in the emergency shelter. 

Many of the young people YES serves are undergoing extremely challenging life circumstances. This includes youth who are fleeing violence, have escaped human trafficking, or have aged out of the foster care system. In addition to housing, YES offers case management and other essential services to support youth as they seek to better their lives.

Construction is underway at 27th and St. Mary’s in downtown Omaha, with YES’s new housing units set to open in September 2025. “The grant is a game changer,” Reed stated. “We’re really excited about it.”