Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Allegheny County clarifies plan to activate temporary homeless shelters this winter

Tents sit along a patch of grass on First Avenue Downtown.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Tents sit along First Avenue Downtown on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

After pressure from Allegheny County’s Homeless Advisory Board, the Department of Human Services has released a clearer plan that details when emergency homeless shelters will open this winter.

City and county officials announced Friday they will enact a so-called “code blue” action plan when outdoor temperatures fall below 26 degrees between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. The plan would add “overflow shelter beds” and expand “existing safe places to access care during the winter months.”

The code blue plan will also be activated when Pittsburgh’s Office of Emergency Management activates the city’s emergency operations center in response to severe weather events.

Officials did not provide information about where the additional beds are located.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

The Homeless Advisory Board — which is staffed by members of more than a dozen housing, health and nonprofit groups — requested additional shelter space be made available earlier this week in a letter to DHS Director Erin Dalton and Pittsburgh’s Chief Operating and Administrative Officer Lisa Frank. When the group sent its letter on Tuesday, temperatures were expected to fall to 20 degrees overnight and no plan existed to increase shelter capacity.

The group recommended leaders establish a temperature threshold for when people could expect the county to open overflow capacity during the winter months.

“In response to your recommendations, we are prepared to further specify our criteria to include an air temperature threshold,” states the response, signed by Dalton and Frank.

But while the advisory board recommended the code blue plan take effect when temperatures fall below 32 degrees, the city and county’s plan requires temperatures to fall 6 degrees lower. City rec centers won’t be activated as warming centers until temperatures fall below 20 degrees.

The response further outlines that during an event, outreach teams will be directed to notify people in encampments about the additional shelter options available.

“We are committed to ongoing assessment of our efforts and regular dialogue about both challenges and solutions to the issue of homelessness in our community,” Dalton and Frank wrote.

Their response also states that the city and county will be “developing and implementing new incentive initiatives and supports that help transition shelter guests to housing faster, and with greater chance of preventing returns to homelessness." They provided no other details about those initiatives.

The response also highlighted “a current active solicitation to add 70 additional units of supportive housing, and efforts to increase the deeply affordable, subsidized, and bridge housing units in the community,” but it did not state the status of that solicitation.

While temperatures this weekend are not expected to trigger the updated code blue plan, they did fall below the threshold earlier this week.

DHS officials said people looking for shelter during a code blue event should go first to Second Avenue Commons, Downtown. If no space is available there, people will be transported to an emergency shelter.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.