Stephen Center History

Stephen Center has served homeless and low-income individuals in Omaha since 1984. Established as a 501(c)(3) in December of 1983, the organization was founded by Sharon and Dick McNeil, who recognized a distinct need to assist those living in poverty in south Omaha. The name Stephen Center was chosen in honor of the Apostle Stephen, one of the first Deacons of the church and a man of faith who committed his time to giving food and charitable aid to the poor.

In partnership with the McNeil family, the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Omaha’s Holy Ghost Church purchased a 103 year old building on Q Street for $10,000. It was a grass roots community effort that transformed the existing building into a shelter for homeless men in early 1984. From those humble beginnings in a rundown former pool hall and bar, Stephen Center has grown to include a multi-facility campus designed to support vulnerable men, women and children as they seek to overcome homelessness, addiction and poverty.

Stephen Center Timeline​


Stephen Center opened its doors to serve men who were homeless and living in poverty.


The emergency shelter was expanded to house additional people via a $354,000 addition designed by UNL students. This addition to the original building allowed Stephen Center’s homeless shelter to serve women and children for the first time.


The HERO Program was founded to assist those who have made a commitment to overcome the effects of drugs, alcohol and co-occurring mental illness. HERO is an acronym that stands for Health, Empowerment, Recovery and Opportunity.


The MOBA clinic was founded to provide free minor medical care and prescription assistance to anyone without health insurance. Local physicians, nurses and medical students volunteered their time. The clinic closed in 2005.


The Stephen Center Guild was established by Bunnie Kizer and Margaret Johnson (originally called “Stephen Center Sponsors”). Guild members continue to be a valuable fundraising partner, notably through the annual Cruise Away event. Members of the Guild volunteer significant hours to Stephen Center’s mission every year.


The Transitional Living Program started. Clients graduating from the HERO Program had the opportunity to live in scattered site housing in the south Omaha area. By definition, Transitional Living provides housing and supportive services to homeless persons to facilitate movement to independent living within 24 months.


Administrative offices and eight Transitional Living apartments were constructed at 27th and Q Street.


The HERO Program received state licensure as a substance abuse treatment facility.


The HERO Program building (John L. Hoich Center for Recovery) was constructed. The facility was designed as a combination low-income housing and substance abuse treatment center focusing on homeless and low-income individuals. It has the capacity to serve 32 men and 32 women.


Stephen Center’s Thrift Store opened at 5128 S. 24th Street. The Thrift Store accepts donations of clothing, furniture and household items – with proceeds from sales directly supporting Stephen Center’s mission and programs. The Thrift Store also provides jobs and job training to clients, plus vouchers for clients to shop for clothing and other items.


The HERO Program received international accreditation from the Center for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Accreditation was renewed in 2013. State licensure and national CARF accreditation is unique in the Omaha community. Stephen Center is the only local emergency shelter with licensed clinical staff and a nationally accredited program to address client addiction and co-occurring mental health needs.


Following project approval and successful fundraising, demolition of the original buildings began and emergency shelter operations were temporarily relocated to St. Mary’s Parish school at 36th & Q Streets. Following demolition, construction began on the Pettigrew Emergency Shelter and 62 units of permanent supportive housing apartments.


Grand Opening of the Pettigrew Emergency Shelter and permanent supportive housing apartments. The shelter provides expanded services for men, women and families. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) provides the opportunity for chronically homeless and disabled individuals and families to transition into a permanent housing option with supportive services.


The Stephen Center HERO Juvenile Program was created to provide non-residential intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment for juveniles ages 13 to 19.


The Stephen Center Pettigrew Emergency Shelter & Permanent Supportive Housing Apartments receive CARF Accreditation.


Successfully navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with support of our community, clients, staff and volunteers.


Stephen Center celebrates 40 years of serving individuals and families in the Omaha Community.