Homeless wonder if shutdown of Downtown Pittsburgh food line is permanent

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As dusk approaches, Pittsburgh's homeless people are wondering where they will go to find food tonight.

For years, they could rely on evening meals served by charitable groups from vehicles parked along the Boulevard of the Allies, under the pedestrian overpass near Stanwix Street.

But city police halted Thursday night's service, ordering everyone involved to move along, and organizers of the donations -- as well as the hungry people they feed -- aren't certain when and where they will be able to continue.

The officers on the scene did not say whether the stoppage was permanent, but a statement from the mayor's office indicated an alternative site was being sought.

"I don't know what we'll do tonight," said Dave Demain, 57, from Scott, who has been living on the Downtown streets off-and-on for more than six years. "The people that come here and bring food and clothes and blankets and all that are just wonderful. They've been here every night of the week. For years, they've been coming down."

No one organization is behind the effort that some nights assists more than 75 people. Some evenings, a church-related group led by "Miss Nancy" brings hot dishes. On Thursdays, the handouts come from students attending Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. On Sundays, Mr. Demain said, it's "a guy with a van who brings us all baloney sandwiches."

But the landscape is shifting. Two Downtown towers flanking the site -- the former State Office Building and the former Verizon building -- have been converted to apartment buildings.

Tenants of River Vue Apartments and 201 Stanwix Apartments have had to navigate through a throng of hungry homeless to leave the parking garage or walk their dogs. They step over litter, and some have been subjected to rude remarks.

"My window looks right down on that location," said Jocelyn Bruzak, 25, who moved into the River Vue Apartments -- the old State Office Building -- in May. "There's been a lot of police activity, firetrucks and ambulances. I guess I'm relieved to hear they've finally done something."

Lt. Jason Lando of the city's Zone 2 station in the Hill District said police frequently receive calls from residents complaining about people who are drunk or blocking the sidewalk when the food line is operating.

Officers were called to the location Thursday evening for a report that two people were fighting in the food line. The fight was verbal rather than physical, so officers decided not to file charges. But when an intoxicated man who had been in the line became disorderly, the service was shut down.

The Rev. Timothy J. Kruthaupt of the Church of the Resurrection in Clymer -- who was driving one of the food Thursday night -- said he did not see an incident and that the four police officers simply ordered them to move.

"Suddenly, for the first time ever, we get these harsh demands that 'You've got to leave the streets immediately or you're going to be arrested,' " said Father Kruthaupt, who this morning sent a letter of protest to the mayor. "It was totally out of the blue. I was very disappointed. We've been going there forever.

"They could have talked with us and we would have accommodated them with whatever was necessary."

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, today said, "We will look into the situation. It seems feasible that an alternative place can be organized that is not right in front of the residences of a bustling downtown population."

Representatives of PMCProperty Group, which manages 201 Stanwix Apartments, declined to comment. Representatives of Millcraft Industries, which oversees River Vue Apartments, could not be reached.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/trypittsburghpress/ Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1456. Liz Navratil contributed.


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