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Winter Shelter for the Homeless

When winter's colder temperatures arrive in Pittsburgh, the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter, or SWES, will be ready.  For a 10th year this winter, the facility on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh will provide shelter to homeless individuals from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the temperature dips to 25 degrees or below.

The operation is a product of a partnership with Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net and Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services. The founder of Operation Safety Net, Dr. James Withers, said SWES is more than just a shelter against the cold.

“Well certainly in the winter we keep an eye on people in terms of frost bite, trench foot, hypothermia, and there’s just a lot more cost in cold it seems like in the general population and the homeless also experience those,” Withers said.

Wither said the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter provides a variety of services to the homeless.

“We provide basic evaluation and we try to give people the care to their wounds if they have them, but also a limited number of medications are available,” Wither said.  “We do have a physiatrist that we can bring in as needed and then there’s a social worker on site.”

Volunteer nurses, doctors, and students mainly staff SWES.  Last year, SWES was open for 31 nights, after reaching an all-time high of 64 nights of operation in 2010.  Overall, 409 individuals were served at SWES last winter including 49 who were 26 years old or younger and 29 who were 64 or older.

The average low temperature in Pittsburgh ranges from 25 degrees to 23 between December 21st and 31st.