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Identity & Community

New Pittsburgh Homeless Shelter That Will Accept Any Adult And Their Pet To Open In 2022

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The five-story, 95-bed facility will operate year-round providing programs and shelter for adults, their pets and possessions.

Community leaders and corporate figures gathered in Uptown Thursday to celebrate breaking ground on a new facility to serve those experiencing homelessness. Officials say the new shelter near the Municipal Courts building along Second Avenue will be the first-of-its-kind in Allegheny County. The facility will be low-barrier, meaning the requirements for entry are minimal.

“This is not a resource that is going to be predicated on a particular time, a particular day, a particular set of conditions, you know? Are you using drugs? That’s OK. You can still come in. Are you a person who is experiencing mental health challenges? That’s OK. You can still come in,” said Laura Drogowski, manager of the city’s Office of Community Health and Safety.

Another unique feature: pets will be allowed.

“One of the big barriers to people coming in for services is that they have pets. And most places do not allow pets to come into shelters,” said Linda Metropulos, Second Avenue Commons board president. Second Avenue Commons is a nonprofit organization established to oversee day to day operations at the shelter.

The 42,000-square-foot, five-story facility will accept adults, their pets and possessions year-round. It will maintain a 95 bed shelter and 45 units of single occupancy housing. A day program will connect people to medical services, food, showers, mail and other necessities. Its wrap-around services will aim to address issues like substance use disorder and unemployment.

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Kiley Koscinski
Officials at the groundbreaking in Uptown on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

The project, first announced in August of last year, is a collaboration among city and county officials, PNC, Highmark Health and UPMC. The $21 million project was supported by contributions of $10 million from the PNC Foundation, $6.75 million from Highmark and Allegheny Health Network, and $6.75 million of in-kind services from UPMC. Grants from the Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments, R.K. Mellon Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation were also part of the fundraising.

The property, at 700 Second Avenue, was donated by the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Mayor Bill Peduto said the location is situated within a walkable distance to many providers who can provide food, clothes and other services needed by people experiencing homelessness. “It had to be somewhere in this area where mobility wouldn’t be an issue for the rest of the services they require,” he said.

UPMC will operate a medical and behavioral health clinic inside the facility. The clinic will provide medical evaluation, emergency treatment, substance use evaluation, behavioral health services and bridge prescriptions, which help patients avoid medication disruption.

The facility may also alleviate strain put on the resources currently available for people experiencing homelessness in the region. Programs and services have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the pandemic and more people are facing housing insecurity.

According to Allegheny County’s point-in-time count, 887 people were found to be experiencing homelessness in 2020. The count increased by 113 more people experiencing homelessness than in 2019. Black people made up a disproportionately large percentage of the homeless population in the 2020 count, 55%, compared to their proportion of the total population of Allegheny County, about 13%.

The county also found that more people, 163 at the time of counting, were living on the street in locations not meant for habitation. The report notes that the increase from 2019’s figures could be a result of milder weather and better canvassing.

Second Avenue Commons will continue to receive financial support and programming through the county. Officials are currently searching for a permanent service provider.

Construction company PJ Dick will lead construction on the facility, which is expected to conclude next summer.