A diverse panel of programmatic experts shared a comprehensive update in Mayor Gainey’s quarterly stakeholder meeting on November 29.
more overflow shelter beds available since June
riders on the Community Connection Shuttle Service
downtown patients serviced by the Co-Reponse program
Positive momentum and gratitude for downtown partners were expressed at Mayor Ed Gainey’s most recent quarterly stakeholder meeting. As he welcomed attendees, the mayor noted that despite the challenges the city has faced in the post-pandemic world, progress is being made every day.
Throughout the past few months, experts from city and county offices have come together to tackle one of the most pressing concerns downtown – the increased need for human services, as well as emergency and post-emergency response. At the meeting, a diverse panel of representatives shared updates, highlighting that while progress has been made and continues to evolve, this is just the beginning of the journey.
The City of Pittsburgh’s Office of Community Health & Safety was established to address longstanding health, safety and justice issues in our city. They work hand-in-hand with police, emergency response crews, social and outreach workers and program developers to assist community members with complex health and social needs. Assistant Director of the office, Camila Alarcon-Chelecki provided an update on several programs that have been established to serve the community including Co-Response, Downtown Crisis Response Case Conferencing, People in Need of Support Program (PINS) and Post Overdose Support Teams (POST).
Through these programs, they are working to determine the right response to mental health or behavioral crises, and through the Co-Response program, two teams – one mobile and one walking unit staffed with police officers and social workers – assist in the de-escalation of situations in the moment of crisis and follow-up with referrals to help those in need receive longer-term support. There have been 79 patients served in the downtown area, and of the services provided by the Co-Response teams, 22.7% are for mental health crises while 22.3% are for housing concerns
As we head into winter months and concern for the unhoused population rises, Erin Dalton, Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, shared a brief update on housing and winter shelter plans. She shared that since 2021, the county has increased the number of year-round shelter beds for single adults by 65% from 232 to 377. Since the closure of the Smithfield Street Shelter in June, they have increased the number of overflow beds by 80 and are set to have another 30 beds opening in December, with Code Blue emergency space also available.
While immediate shelter needs and long-term placements were discussed, emphasis was placed on enhancing programs for the “middle” of the unhoused population. The middle refers to those individuals ready to move on from emergency shelters and into deeply affordable subsidized or bridge housing. The challenge on this front is the lack of available space in longer-term housing options due to a shortage of facilities. Buildings across the city and throughout surrounding communities – hotels, former nursing homes, etc. – are ideal facilities to host this population; however, zoning issues prevent these building conversions from taking place. Flow in the housing system is required and without the conversion and operation of new long-term facilities, the length of stay in emergency shelters is likely to keep increasing.
After commending the level of communication and collaboration among downtown partners, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership CEO Jeremy Waldrup and Clean & Outreach Operations Manager James Wimberly shared an update on the Outreach team, including their work with the Community Connection Shuttle Service, which physically connects individuals to services by providing a safe transportation option. Outreach team members often ride along on the shuttle to develop relationships and assess situations to help determine resources needed. There is an average of 99 weekly riders, with total shuttle ridership of 2,456 since it was launched on June 14.
Through collaboration and public-private partnerships, human service programs continue to progress and evolve in downtown Pittsburgh. As we move into the future, we look forward to working with these partners and providing updates as they become available in the coming months.