Downtown shelter to open for bad weather

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People who live on Pittsburgh's streets once again will have a place to stay overnight when weather turns bad this winter.

Allegheny County's Department of Human Services and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System are again operating a severe weather emergency shelter at Smithfield United Church of Christ.

The shelter, at 620 Smithfield St., Downtown, will operate 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on dangerously cold nights from now through March 15.

Last year the shelter operated a record 63 nights, serving people who are reluctant to use the region's existing homeless shelters on a regular basis. The emergency shelter gives them a refuge on nights when exposure to outdoor conditions could be fatal, a spokesman said.

It will open when temperatures are expected to drop below 25 degrees, when freezing rain or heavy snowfall is expected or when the National Weather Service declares a blizzard or weather emergency.

Last year the shelter served from 70 to 130 people per night. Up-to-date information on when the shelter is open is available at 412-779-1329.

The shelter is operated by the county department's Office of Community Service in partnership with Mercy Health System's Operation Safety Net, which manages the shelter. County police provide security.

Others assisting include Shepherd's Heart, a partnership of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese, the Veterans Affairs Health Care System and Bethlehem Haven, which provides shelter for women at its Miryam's facility.

Funding comes from the county, the City of Pittsburgh, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, AmeriCorps and 19 other religious and social service groups also provide support.

More information about Operation Safety Net is online at www.pmhs.org or by calling 412-232-5739.

For almost 20 years, Operation Safety Net has been providing medical and mental health care, case management and clothing to the homeless.

The nonprofit agency is accepting new men's hats and gloves that its volunteers will distribute at the shelter this winter. Clothing donations can be sent to Operation Safety Net, 1518 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Monetary contributions can be sent to Operation Safety Net, c/o Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Development, 101 Bradford Road, Suite 320, Wexford, PA 15090. Gifts should be marked to benefit those served at the severe weather emergency shelter.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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