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Pittsburgh homeless shelter already seeing high numbers of people seeking emergency housing

Bunk beds and cots inside a room.
Light of Life Rescue Mission
Light of Life's Voeghtly Street shelter for men.

The Ammon Recreation Center in the Hill District will serve as an emergency shelter this winter when temperatures drop below 26 degrees and there isn’t room at other facilities in Allegheny County.

Both the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County were criticized for not being more forthcoming with their plan for emergency shelter when last week’s cold snap hit.

The Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services’ Deputy Director for the Office of Community Services Abigail Horn acknowledged it would have been ideal to have designated Ammon as an emergency shelter earlier. But she said the ultimate solution isn't creating more shelters.

“The solution to homelessness is housing. And I think we should all be focused on the need for deeply affordable housing throughout the county. That is a solution to homelessness. And we are proactively, along with all of our partners, pursuing that,” said Horn during a press conference on emergency winter housing held at the Light of Life Rescue mission on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

This emergency shelter will likely be needed in the coming months as Light of Life reports that it’s already hitting overflow numbers — even though it’s still early December. People who come to the mission seeking shelter sleep on cots instead of beds due to a lack of space.

The mission’s executive director Jerrel Gilliam said that some of the increase in demand is from older people who don’t have a history of mental illness or addiction.

“It's been heartbreaking to see grandmothers, grandfathers coming to us,” said Gilliam. “Because of economic conditions, they find themselves homeless on the street.”

A survey done this January found that there were 913 people in Allegheny County who were living in emergency shelters, or experiencing unsheltered homelessness. In January 2022, it was 736.

Corrected: December 8, 2023 at 7:01 AM EST
This story was updated with the correct neighborhood for Ammon Recreation Center.
Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.