Connie and Tony Ferguson sit at a tent under one of three overpasses over Anderson Street on the North Side, while a crew behind them begins moving the homeless encampment.
By Jessica Contrera Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A homeless camp was eliminated this morning when PennDOT workers began clearing out and fencing off an encampment below overpasses on the North Shore.
The removal has been planned since early July, when city and state officials announced that the 30 or so people living under the Interstate 579 overpasses near Anderson Street must vacate within five days.
The deadline passed without any action by PennDOT, as they had not yet gotten fencing supplies.
Eradication of North Shore homeless camp begins
After nearly three weeks of warnings, PennDot began clearing out a North Shore homeless encampment. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/22/2013)
"We really worked to get everyone out by the deadline," said Anne Kainaroi, outreach supervisor for Community Human Services. "But after PennDOT didn't show, many of the homeless went back to their spots."
Only two of the areas beneath the three overpasses will be fenced off by the end of the day. The shelter under the northern-most overpass is still occupied by an unknown number of people.
"We are working with the city and local agencies to move those people out and to better living situations before we close it off," said Angelo Pampena, PennDOT manager for Allegheny County.
But better living situations might not exist for those who cannot afford housing. According to Community Human Services, Pittsburgh's homeless shelters are at maximum capacity.
Ms. Kainaroi said most people living under the overpasses were forced to move to other homeless encampments in the city, placing a financial burden on service providers and taxpayers.
"So often, we are trying to help them get things like medicine and photo IDs," Ms. Kainaroi said. "When all of their stuff is just cleared away, we have to start all over."
The move will make other homeless encampments more crowded, potentially increasing demands to have them cleared out as well.
"We can't just keep pushing these people from one part of the city another," said Jim Withers, the founder of Operation Safety Net, a homeless outreach program that works through the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. "We need a more permanent solution."
Connie and Tony Ferguson lived in the camp for three months. They said they wish people would recognize that not all homeless people are lazy or addicted to drugs and alcohol.
They are planning to live with a friend once they are forced to pack up their tent.
"We both have jobs and have been clean for more than eight years," Ms. Ferguson said. "We're working with a housing program to find somewhere to go more permanently, but it is going to take time."
PennDOT officials said although they are sympathetic to the needs of the homeless, the space beneath the overpasses is not suitable for anyone to live, even in tents.
Among the heaps of trash cleared by workers Monday morning were alcohol bottles, needles, rats, feces and urine. They also found grills and remains of bonfires.
"It's just not safe to have people living under here," Mr. Pampena said. "We can't have fires being lit around all of these computerized control boxes and cables especially."