Homeless in the security perimeter forced to move on
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As the world's most powerful leaders descend on Pittsburgh, social service agencies have geared up to assist the city's most vulnerable: the homeless.
Homeless people living in or around the security perimeter might be displaced during the G-20, and others might not have access to crucial Downtown services, said Rich Venezia, administrator for the county Bureau of Hunger and Housing Services.
"The main concerns are for the safety and welfare of our chronic street population," he said, noting that a G-20 homeless committee of governmental bodies and social services agencies has been meeting for more than a month.
Bethlehem Haven, which provides emergency shelter and transitional services to homeless women, has opened an additional 20 beds for people displaced during the G-20. Six of those beds have been filled since the beginning of the week, and shelter staff expect more beds to be filled tonight and tomorrow.
"What's happening now is that the homeless population is being swept from underneath the bridges and left without their belongings," said Bianca Zitelli, clinical director.
The shelter has stocked up on medication and personal hygiene supplies for women who are displaced.
Jean Reeves, a resident of the Miryam's transitional supportive housing program at Bethlehem Haven, said that she has heard from friends living on the streets that security sweeps under North Side bridges began last week.
"A couple of them were expecting it but a few of them were really surprised," she said. "One of the girls lost everything -- children's pictures, birth certificates, everything."
Such practices are fairly typical for cities hosting major events, said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C.
"When there's huge events, it's pretty standard operating procedure that the police and public officials work with the local homeless service providers to relocate people who are staying on the street," he said. His organization asks that everyone on the street is treated equally and that relocations are done as compassionately as possible.
Other homeless shelters and service providers, such as the Pleasant Valley shelter at the North Side Common Ministries and the Shepherds Heart shelter in Uptown, have also expanded their hours.
A G-20 consumer fact sheet distributed by the county advises people to carry photo identification at all times and to make sure that medications are in their original prescription bottles.
The county is hoping that the city's homeless population gets off the streets during any protest -- and into shelters.
"It's America -- we can't force our chronic street homeless population to do something they don't want to do," said Mr. Venezia. "But we want to make sure they're as safe as possible."
First Published September 24, 2009 12:00 am