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Identity & Community

Homeless Shelters Struggle With Frigid Weather

“We’re all stretched to the max at this point and we’re just trying to get through it,” said Stephanie Chiappini, program manager for Allegheny County's severe weather homeless shelters.

The shelters, one for men in downtown Pittsburgh and one for women in Uptown, open when temperatures fall below 25 degrees.

On average, 82 men and 12 women are provided with warmth, food, clothing, medical care and other services every cold night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Chiappini says this winter’s cold weather is depleting resources quickly. The shelters have been open for nine days in a row and Chiappini expects them to remain open all weekend.

“The weather isn’t cooperating, my staff’s getting really stressed and tired, we’re kind of running low on supplies,” she said.

The National Weather Service forecasts overnight temperatures as low as -9 through Saturday.

Last winter the shelters were open a record-setting 79 nights. This season the program started Nov. 13 and has been in operation 56 nights, meaning that so far the shelter has been open more days than it’s been closed.

While food shortages are not a problem, Chiappini said, they are running low on cold weather gear such as gloves, hats, thermal underwear and warm socks.

Funding comes partly from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and from “pieced together” grants, Chiappini said.

“Our budget is actually less than it was last year,” Chiappini said. “We could definitely use some more money to go towards this process, mainly paying for the staff that’s necessary.”

Donations can be made online through Pittsburgh Mercy Health System which helps the county with its program.

The program only has one full-time employee, according to Chiappini. “Everybody else is kind of picked from our other programs, extended, stretched,” she said.

Teams go throughout the city on cold nights to find homeless individuals and encourage them to go to the shelter. There is also a medical van than provides on-site care for those living outside.

“The fact that anyone needs to be outside to live is a tragedy,” Chiappini said, “so if we can do anything to help people be safe in dangerous weather, I think that’s the least we can do as a community.”

The program will end for the season March 15, unless temperatures remain below 25 degrees.

Correction: This story originally indicated that two emergency shelters were officially titled "Operation Safety Net." Operation Safety Net is a program of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System which assists the county in running its cold weather homeless services.