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'Pittsburgh Home:' More Than A Shelter for the Homeless

Allegheny County Department of Human Services

“It’s about loving your fellow Pittsburgher,” says Jon Potter who wants to create a new kind of homeless shelter.

Potter, who owns a hostel in Lawrenceville, told 90.5's Essential Pittsburgh the city has a lot of shelters that “do really good work,” but he’s trying to develop a cooperatively owned “Pittsburgh Home.”

“We want to essentially buy a house and have it be multi-unit so we can have separation of genders or even families,” Potter said.  “Then we’re going to be renting it out for a dollar a year so they can have a lease, they can prove residency, and they can prove they’ve had a landlord before to help them get off the street and get their own home eventually.”

According to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the number of homeless persons in the county rose from 1,265 in 2010 to 1,573 in 2014 (up 24 percent).  The department reports 93 percent of the homeless were sheltered—either in emergency facilities or in transitional housing.

Potter said the shelters are great but “there’s a dignity in having your own home, and that’s what we want to provide.  It’s not only dignity, it’s also having an address you can use to apply for jobs and get a bank account and a driver’s license.  It’s actually having a home is what people need.”

He says the eligibility requirements are not extensive:  “you can’t be doing drugs or addicted to alcohol.”

“But the only thing we need is that you’re dedicated to getting off the streets.  There are people who are habitually homeless and I think that everyone who is homeless gets lumped into that, and people aren’t really sympathetic.  But there are a lot of people who want to get off the street. They’re actively trying to, but the system fails them.  So as long as you’re trying to get a job or trying to gob back to school, trying to better yourself, you can stay here.”

According to Potter, he’s looking for a big house with three units:  one for the hostel for travelers that he says is a self-sustaining operation and the other two units for homeless persons—up to 3 individuals per unit. 

“We’re crowd-funding a bunch of money to buy this house.  We have about 50 people from all walks of life.  We have people from the mental health care business and people who work with non-profits, and it’s a bunch of people coming together to try to build this.”

Potter says they are scouting sites in the city for “Pittsburgh Home” and has raised nearly $4,100 toward his goal of $50,000 to buy or put a down payment on a house. He adds even if he doesn’t meet the goal, he’ll tap his personal savings because “I’m going to make this happen.”

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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