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BigBurgh Website A Tool For Police To Help Pittsburgh’s Homeless

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

It’s not always easy for a person to find basic services when they are homeless, according to Bob Firth.

“For example, Google, ‘free dental care Pittsburgh,’ and you will get 10,000 hits for a free dental evaluation, followed by $5,000 in work,” Firth said.

But the new website, in the hands of Pittsburgh police officers, might be able to help.

Firth and his team at Informing Design were tasked with building a website that would look like an app when viewed on a smart phone, and would put the right information in the hands of officers. Officers have already begun to use the site.

Pittsburgh Police Officer Ron Spangler most often finds himself patrolling Downtown on his bike. He said his black and neon yellow uniform attracts a lot of attention and a lot of questions.

Credit BigBurgh
A screen shot of the BigBurgh website, which is designed to look like an app while viewed in a browser window.

He said questions from the homeless range from where to find a bite to eat to where to find mental health services. He said recently he saw a homeless woman who needed medical care on her feet, so he pulled out his phone and used to site to find a food specialist. 

“It was right in there,” Spangler said. “I showed her three places within walking distance where she could go get he feet taken care of.”

A few years back, the head of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund asked Pittsburgh police officers what they needed to help the homeless. The result was a piece of paper small enough to fit into an officer’s hat but large enough to contain the phone numbers of agencies that could help. But outdated information and lost papers soon became a problem. was the result of trying to figure out a better answer.

Firth said 80 percent of the annual $80,000 budget being covered by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund will go toward updating the information on the site. 

“Once a week we have someone who actually visits places because it’s hard to get them to reply to us because they are so busy in doing their services,” Firth said. “Some places get updated monthly, some get updated quarterly.”

Police will be trained on how to use the website while interacting with the homeless, but official stress it can also be used by the homeless themselves and by anyone coming into contact with them.