By Amanda Waltz
PITTSBURGH — As winter nears and temperatures drop, the question of how to serve vulnerable populations experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity is once again posed. This is especially dire now, as COVID-19 has drastically changed how shelters operate.
Now Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will deliver a round of funding to help organizations in Allegheny County and across the state assist those currently experiencing homelessness.
On Monday, Wolf announced that $3 million in grant funding has been awarded to 15 municipalities and organizations spanning 20 counties. A press release says the money will be used to “assist homeless providers and communities prepare for, prevent the spread of, and respond to the coronavirus by providing emergency shelter, targeted street outreach, and temporary emergency shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness this winter.”
The funding includes $1,223,508 going to entities able to provide either emergency shelter, including ACTION Housing/Team PSBG, which runs the Smithfield Street Cold Weather Shelter in Downtown Pittsburgh; Community Human Services in Oakland; and Pittsburgh Mercy in the North Side.
Funding also went to recipients in neighboring Beaver and Butler counties.
“All Pennsylvanians are entitled to safe shelter, and that is never more important than in the cold winter months,” says Wolf. “This funding will help ensure that our communities can safeguard the health of all residents and protect them from the elements while working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth.”
The amount is part of the commonwealth’s Emergency Solutions Grant CARES Act (ESG-CV2), which provides three allocations of homeless assistance funding, and ESG-CV Code Blue, a program designed to provide and expand emergency shelter during the winter months.
In August, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services estimated that 887 people in and around Pittsburgh were experiencing homelessness, an increase of 113 more people compared to 2019. Those numbers could become higher as the pandemic stretches on, and factors, such as continued unemployment and evictions, could lead to people being in need of shelter over the next few months.
Any help is needed as shelters foresee being unable to take in as many people compared to previous years. The Weather Channel and others have pointed out how shelters in cities across the country have had to limit capacity in order to comply with government restrictions on indoor crowd sizes, and over fears of contributing to the spread of the virus.
In addition to state funding, local shelters and groups dedicated to serving homeless people are still in need of donations, including money, new clothing and care items, books and magazines, and more.
In addition to shelters, there is also relief available for renters and homeowners through the state Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Those seeking shelter and other cold-weather resources can visit the Winter Shelter page on the Allegheny County Department of Human Services website.
Amanda Waltz is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.