In 1954, thousands of men swarmed the city of Omaha searching for work on the city’s 10 railroads. They congregated in bars and slept in flophouses. Garland Thompson, a student at the Omaha Bible Institute, wanted to reach out to these men with Christ’s love and compassion. Fueled by faith, guided by his vision for an evangelical mission, and assisted by Pastor Jerry Dunn and a group of Christian businessmen, Thompson unveiled Open Door Mission in the Ballenger Building at 13th and Douglas Streets on November 1, 1954.
When the owner of the building at 13th and Douglas Streets decided to sell it in 1955, Thompson and Pastor Dunn prayed that God would give them another space. A building at 13th and Howard was perfect, but the owners did not want to rent it for a mission. God intervened, and the Open Door Mission moved to 422 South 13th Street. This building was 20 times larger than Open Door Mission’s original building and perfect for its needs. Eventually we purchased this building.
Over the next 30 years, Open Door Mission continued to offer food, shelter and rehabilitation programs to homeless men and those with alcohol addictions. It also provided medical and dental care, and a Bible-based discipleship program helped changed lives. Open Door Mission continued to receive support from the community, including citizens like Bob Cornett, the leading bondsman of Omaha and Douglas County, and the Eppley Foundation.
As Open Door Mission expanded, it experienced severe growing pains and serious setbacks in leadership. When Thompson and Dunn left their leadership positions in 1971, the successors tried to create a new secular entity. Evangelical programs were dropped and Open Door Mission’s funds began to decline. Nevertheless, the ministry was preserved during this time.
In 1986, Open Door Mission moved again. The City of Omaha recognized the value of our service to the community; yet in 1983, the city began implementing the Urban Renewal Plan and decided to relocate the Mission from the downtown area. We negotiated to sell our building for $1 million and the remaining money was deposited in an account to pay the bills during lean times. Open Door Mission’s income dropped from $200,000 a year to $100,000 during this period.
With the move to east Omaha, Open Door Mission was less visible to people in the community, and this cost us a great deal of support. Rev. Robert O. Timberlake came on as executive director in spring 1987 and began to change that. At the time, we had three staff members — Pastor Bob and two women. There was no food pantry, no clothing program, no rehabilitation program. Pastor Bob worked untiringly to remedy this situation, and Open Door Mission’s current programs — including Lydia House and family outreach — were initiated and developed under his leadership.
In the 1990s, homeless families began seeking shelter at missions across the United States.In response to the need for family shelter and rehabilitation, we expanded our services to include families, and developed the New Life Recovery Program of Christian Rehabilitation. The program graduated 12 families at the beginning of 2000. Also in 2000, Open Door Mission began seeking partner organizations to provide therapeutic and educational services for Omaha’s homeless.
On October 1, 2001, Open Door Mission opened the Emergency Temporary Housing wing. Reconstruction of the former office area provided immediate shelter for nine homeless families.
In 2005, Open Door Mission started the Men’s Day Facilities program, which provides a place where homeless men can freely access the Internet, rest, do laundry, eat nutritious meals and seek case management every day of the year.
Open Door Mission has a definitive plan that will offer more space for homeless men, women, and children. The three phase plan—a new Lydia House, renovation of the Garland Thompson Men’s Center, and a new Permanent Supportive Housing—will continue to meet their basic human needs and then engage them in programs structured around the education an skills necessary to rebuild their lives and prepare them for successful living. The projected completion date for this project is 2015.
A ground breaking ceremony was held on October 16, 2008 to celebrate the first phase of Open Door Mission’s Rebuilding Lives Campaign. The new Lydia House Building is set to open, January 2010 and will provide safe shelter for 72 single women and 46 families.
Open Door Mission’s Veteran’s Housing First Program provides free housing and care for homeless veterans who are wanting to be clean and sober and working towards accomplishing goals that will reclaim their self-sufficiency within the community. Currently, the program is operating at full capacity but the new Rebuilding Lives Center will provide 32 Veteran units in 2012.
Open Door Mission celebrated the completion of Phase One of the Rebuilding Lives Campaign with the opening of the new Lydia House that offers space for 300 women and families. Open Door Mission broke ground on Phase Two—41 two and three bedroom apartment units.
Open Door Mission celebrated the completion of Phase Two with the opening of the Permanent Supportive Housing complex. 41 two and three bedroom apartments provide a safe, stable place for men, women, and families to live during their transition. Open Door Mission made history with the demolition of the current Garland Thompson Men’s Center to make way for a brand new 60,000 square foot building set to open in 2012.