The city’s new homeless center – which will accept anyone and their pet – is set to open in October
Local officials plan to open in mid-October a new downtown homeless center that takes a low-barrier approach to couples, addictions and pets. The 45,000 square foot facility along Second Avenue, for which the land opened more than a year ago, has been hailed as a key pillar in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s approach to deal with homelessness.
“When we create a safe space for homeless people, we also create public safety for the city and the county,” Mayor Ed Gainey said at a press conference at the center Thursday. “Being homeless is not a crime. It is something that needs to be addressed.”
Gainey was joined by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, officials from the Allegheny County Department of Social Services and representatives from Pittsburgh Mercy, UPMC, Highmark, PNC Financial Services and the Allegheny Conference on the communautary development.
According to a recent count by Allegheny County, 650 people were homeless in September, and 200 of those were homeless. Tackling homelessness has become a top priority for city officials after the tent camps garnered media attention over the summer.
The five-story Second Avenue Commons will accommodate 95 bunk beds year-round and 135 beds in the winter. On top of that, the property has 43 dorm-style rooms with a bed, microwave, and mini-fridge for those who need to stay long term.
City and county officials were careful Thursday to avoid labeling the space a one-size-fits-all solution to housing insecurity. Linda Metropulos, chair of the board of Second Avenue Commons, said the facility is designed to fill gaps in social services.
“We are an addition to these programs. Not a substitution,” she said. “The Commons will strengthen the infrastructure by adding elements that are not currently in place.”
These elements include free health care services, an in-house pharmacy, job training opportunities, and mental health and addictions services. The center’s weekday programming will make meals, showers, laundry and other amenities accessible to all who need them.
Erin Dalton, director of the Allegheny County Department of Social Services, called the shelter “an important addition to the Allegheny County homelessness system with the potential to engage with homeless people in a different way.” homeless shelter”.
A key difference between Second Avenue Commons and other regional shelters is a more relaxed approach to what is required of someone coming to stay. People with substance use disorders cannot use drugs in the facility, but they also do not need to be in recovery before staying there. Mixed couples can stay together in mixed shelters.
People can also bring their belongings and pets with them. The facility will have lockers and a larger storage facility for people to keep their belongings during their stay.
According to Metropulos, pets will be limited to dogs and cats and there will be pet-free areas for residents wishing to avoid them. Officials have not yet revealed whether a veterinarian has been hired by the shelter, but said a dog wash station and vet appointments will be provided for those in need.
The shelter, located on the third floor of the building, will be open 24/7, unlike other local shelters which stop reception at a certain time. “Someone might come in the middle of the night and get access to a bed,” said Abigail Horn, assistant director of the Community Services Office for the Allegheny County Department of Social Services.
People can also store prohibited items in the shelter – such as drugs, weapons or other items – in what are called “amnesty lockers” before checking in with security. “They’ll be able to keep those things in that amnesty locker, no questions asked,” Horn said.
During the day, medical providers will be able to offer on-site care and prescribe medication, some of which can be filled in-house. UPMC will operate a free clinic to treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. People can also get free gynecological, hepatitis C and STD screenings.
Patients do not need to stay at the facility to access the free clinic. With Second Avenue Commons less than a block from the Allegheny County Jail, medical center director Dr. Anita Leon-Jhong said people released from jail could come to the center for medical treatment. ensure that their prescriptions have not expired.
“When patients get out of jail, they are often released without any medication or maybe a seven-day supply,” Leon-Jhong said. “They can come, they can connect with DHS for housing, they can get medicine from us. We can connect them to longer term services.
With a maximum capacity of 180 beds, Second Avenue Commons plans to partner with other regional shelters that may run out of space in the winter. Allegheny County will not be opening another nearby 90-bed winter shelter this winter along Smithfield Street, but other county-run shelters are yet to open for colder weather.
While the facility allows for longer-term stays, Metropulos stressed that the programming will aim to encourage people to become self-sufficient and provide connections to permanent housing.
“It’s not meant to be permanent accommodation,” she said. Second Avenue Commons “is a way for people to move from a state of homelessness to permanent housing.”
In a similar vein, the Pittsburgh City Council recently passed an ordinance to explore how to encourage more secondary suites in the city. Adding more small units to private properties could provide income to the owner and increase the stock of affordable housing.
In a report due in November, council members will learn more about how the development of these units could expand through pre-built models, relaxed parking requirements and public-private partnerships that could help owners allow construction.
On Thursday, officials held up Second Avenue Commons as an example of how government and private business can come together for the public good.
“This public-private partnership and collaboration is just one example of what we can do when there is a will to make a difference,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “We know homelessness is hard, but it can also be solved.”