Pittsburgh's homeless sought, counted, helped

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The first goal is finding housing for Pittsburgh's homeless; the rest will follow, local human services workers say.

"It's a complex problem with an easy solution," said Breanna Jay, coordinator for Operation Save-A-Life, which is part of Community Human Services.

Operation Save-A-Life conducted its annual Point-In-Time survey of the North Side's homeless Tuesday night to provide proof of the individuals it serves.

Along with volunteers from AmeriCorps and La Roche College, the group walked a two-mile loop, stopping five times to conduct the survey and weekly street outreach. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Operation Save-A-Life distributes socks, lunches, water and hygiene kits, which include items, such as a washcloth, soap, razor, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste.

All programs aiding the homeless conduct the surveys, which are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide funding and track trends, outreach supervisor Anne Kainaroi said.

The survey asked for the person's first and last initials and age, and inquired about items such as mental illness, disabilities, military service, if they've experienced domestic violence, and where the person would sleep Tuesday night.

Operation Save-A-Life completed about 12 to 15 surveys Tuesday night and plans to resume the surveys tonight and Thursday. Ms. Jay said she expects to survey about 30 homeless people living on the streets, as opposed to in shelters.

The street homeless are generally men between the ages of 27 and 60, Ms. Kainaroi said. On the North Side and South Side, riverbanks and bridges provide spaces out of the public eye for those who are homeless, she said.

"For every person, there is a reason" they're homeless, Ms. Kainaroi said. Once you hear a person's story you could never judge them for the decisions that have brought them to this place, she said.

Ms. Jay said the people she encounters each week have become protective of her. Some greeted her with hugs. Ms. Kainaroi said she has never felt unsafe completing weekly outreach.

In the largest camp Save-A-Life encountered Tuesday night, one woman, who is about five months pregnant, said she hopes for stable housing for herself and her children.

Elsewhere, two men lived in a tent fashioned of tarps and blankets between a fence and trees above train tracks.

When passed a brown-bagged lunch of a bologna sandwich and a snack, Scott, 47, said, "Yes, this is what I want."

Though he'd been homeless for about 21/2 years, he said, "We're gonna get out of this mess."


Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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