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Dozens displaced after fire at Second Avenue Commons homeless shelter

Firefighters and others respond to a fire at a building in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

About 180 people experiencing homelessness were displaced after a fire broke out at Second Avenue Commons Tuesday. It’s unclear when residents will be able to return.

Officials said the fire appears to have been caused by an overheated air conditioning unit on the roof. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear Tuesday, and the building must be inspected before residents can come back.

“[Allegheny] County Department of Human Services is working to safely shelter the residents of Second Avenue Commons immediately,” said Abigail Gardner, a spokesperson for County Executive Sara Innamorato.

Second Avenue Commons is the county’s primary low-barrier shelter. It includes traditional shelter beds as well as longer-term dorm-style rooms. Couples are allowed to stay together, and people can bring their pets — a rarity in the shelter system.

Allegheny County opened an emergency shelter at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Tuesday night for those displaced by the fire.

“Obviously with the heat, getting people in a safe and air-conditioned shelter tonight is critical,” Gardner said. Temperatures Tuesday peaked in the high 80s.

Gardner added that people who wanted to help address the situation could donate to Pittsburgh Mercy, which operates some parts of Second Avenue Commons.

A spokesperson for Pittsburgh Regional Transit said the agency dispatched two buses to Second Avenue Commons Tuesday, “where they are on standby while the Red Cross processes the displaced residents that may need transport” to the convention center.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at