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Pittsburgh's Only Crisis Nursery Celebrates Three Years, Hopes To Expand

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Lisa Perry

Jeremiah’s Place is celebrating three years of service as western Pennsylvania’s only crisis nursery this month.

Located inside the Kingsley Association in Larimer, the facility provides 24-hour care for infants and children, who can stay for a few hours or even days when their parents are unable to provide help themselves.

90.5 WESA’s Virginia Alvino Young spoke with Executive Director Lisa Perry about the milestone.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG: Under what circumstances would a parent or family need to use a crisis nursery?

LISA PERRY: When we first opened, we just knew we were going to be available to families primarily for domestic violence situations. We have a lot of mothers who are in the midst of having other children -- hospitalizations. They’re changing their medications, and they need time to sleep. Respite is a really important component of our needs for families who are looking for care. Sleep is a huge part of it. We have really new moms who don’t recognize the importance of sleep. We (also) see families who are experiencing homelessness.

ALVINO YOUNG: What is the need for crisis nursery care in the community and is it growing?

PERRY: Definitely the demand is growing. Every day is different. We can see three children in one day, nine children the next. ... There are days where we don’t have any children, and that’s never a good day at Jeremiah’s Place, because what we know is that someone hasn’t reached out. It doesn’t mean that there’s not a need that day when we don’t have a child in our care, it just means that someone doesn’t know we’re there for them.

ALVINO YOUNG: Is it hard for some families to ask for help? What other changes are happening in Pittsburgh that may be weakening families’ support networks they would traditionally turn to?

PERRY: It is sometimes difficult for families to reach out for help. There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you can’t care for your child, and asking for help is always difficult. We try to provide a judgment-free zone for families, making it extremely easy for parents to pick up the phone and call. But it’s really difficult to take that first step. Certainly, isolation for families is a huge issue in our community. I grew up in a community in Homewood and in Wilkinsburg at a time when everyone knew my name. I knew everyone on my street, and my parents could turn to them for support. If they needed to run to the grocery store or for an emergency, someone would watch me, and that’s really difficult these days. We used to be a neighborhood where (once) in Pittsburgh, families stayed in Pittsburgh. Now people are leaving (and) going to other cities. There’s a little bit of that "fragmented community" feel now.

ALVINO YOUNG: What gap in care does Jeremiah's Place fill?

PERRY: We’re different than a regular day care center. So in the middle of the night, if you have a situation that occurs, and obviously a child care center is not going to be available to you, we can stand in the gap. We see families at a really critical point where they are making a decision to shift, a moment in their lives that’s really critical to moving them forward. We’re not seeing them at a time (when) they’re just coming in at 8 a.m. to drop a child off just for their regular routine. This is not "paddy cake, paddy cake, baker’s man;" this is trauma-informed care that we’re (providing) for children and families.

ALVINO YOUNG: Where are clients coming from?

PERRY: Amazingly, we have seen families come from as far as 50 different zip codes. We have seen families come from Erie.

ALVINO YOUNG: What’s next for the organization?

PERRY: Oh my goodness, that’s an exciting question. So much. We have been asked to explore the possibility of expansion into some other areas right here in the city. There’s a lot of talk in Pittsburgh and beyond about the opioid situation, the epidemic, and so there’s great need for us to consider looking in Westmoreland County and other areas to try and be of service in communities where that situation is becoming an even greater issue. But certainly, because we know one of the biggest barriers is transportation for many families, we’ve had families who are catching buses to get to us in the midst of a crisis. By being able to offer centers in other areas of the city, we would be able to address that by not having them come so far.