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After multiple delays, a long-awaited homeless center opens in Downtown Pittsburgh

At max-capacity, Second Avenue Commons will be able to shelter nearly 180 people.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA news
At max-capacity, Second Avenue Commons will be able to shelter nearly 180 people.

A long-awaited 45,000-square-foot homeless center has opened its doors in Downtown Pittsburgh, shortly after officials blamed supply chain problems for months of delays. Second Avenue Commons officially began operations at 2 p.m. Tuesday and will operate its overnight shelter beginning at 7 p.m. The opening comes one week after Allegheny County moved to open another Downtown shelter to meet demand.

“Our construction team has worked really close with the city” to get inspections done, said Linda Metropulos, Second Avenue Commons board chair. She added that Pittsburgh Mercy, which will manage some operations at the facility, "was in the wings waiting … so they could open the shelter” as soon as possible.

The opening follows a string of delays dating back to the summer, as city and county officials directed people to a smaller shelter along Smithfield Street in the meantime. A statement from an Allegheny County spokesperson said that shelter will remain in operation.

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The Second Avenue shelter has been characterized by local leaders as a key source of relief for those experiencing homelessness. The five-story facility boasts space for 95 bunkbeds year-round, plus an overflow shelter that allows for 125 total shelter beds in the winter. Metropulos noted that staff won’t open the “overflow” winter shelter Tuesday unless demand requires it.

“We don’t know what to expect, to tell you the truth,” she said. “But we’ll be ready.”

In addition to the shelter beds, the facility has 43 longer-term dorm-style rooms, each with a bed, microwave and mini fridge. Metropulos said Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services has been able to fill those rooms already. Some people began moving in last Thursday when the facility was granted a partial occupancy permit.

Metropulos said outreach workers prioritized “people who are unhoused and also needed supportive services.”

The facility will be operated by a collaboration of five entities: Pittsburgh Mercy, UPMC, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and Second Avenue Commons Inc. Planning for the facility began in 2019, led by PNC Bank, UPMC and Highmark.

The shelter lowers the barriers for people who need access to its services. Couples will be allowed to stay together and pets — specifically cats and dogs — will be accommodated. Veterinarian services will be provided “in the near future,” according to a Pittsburgh Mercy spokesperson.

On Wednesday, the facility will be open for daytime services such as laundry, showers and food. People will be able to access computers and connect with case managers too, according to Metropulos. UPMC will also launch its medical clinic at the facility Wednesday.

A fall count by Allegheny County found that 650 people were experiencing homelessness in September, and 200 of those people had no shelter. Addressing homelessness has become a top priority for city officials after tent camps got increased media attention over the summer.

Pittsburgh’s Department of Public works cleared one of those camps, located near the Cultural District downtown, last week. Officials claimed city staff and the Allegheny County Health Department worked with people at the encampment to help them find immediate shelter indoors.

This story will be updated.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.