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Latrobe, Greensburg homeless shelters have beds ready for winter

Stephen Huba
| Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, 4:45 p.m.
An emergency bed intended for single men at the The Union Mission in Latrobe on Jan. 12, 2016. In addition to two bunk rooms, cots will be added in a separate area for women and children to create an emergency cold weather shelter. The shelter allows people to stay for a night or two if the weather is cold and they have no heat.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
An emergency bed intended for single men at the The Union Mission in Latrobe on Jan. 12, 2016. In addition to two bunk rooms, cots will be added in a separate area for women and children to create an emergency cold weather shelter. The shelter allows people to stay for a night or two if the weather is cold and they have no heat.

When the weather outside is fit for neither man nor beast, a group of Westmoreland County social service agencies is guaranteeing the homeless a place to stay.

Cold-weather shelters in Greensburg and Latrobe re-opened Wednesday and will be available to provide emergency lodging through March 31.

The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania began the program in January 2016 and repeated it in the winter of 2016-17, making this the second full year of operation.

The participating shelters — Welcome Home Shelter in Greensburg and Union Mission in Latrobe — provided 600 shelter nights of lodging to individuals and families last winter, said Bobbi Watt Geer, United Way regional vice president.

The United Way expects a similar volume this winter, Geer said. “The shelters fill a real void in our community's basic needs network,” she said.

On nights when the temperature is 25 degrees or lower, the two shelters will be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Even if the shelters are full, they will provide cots and blankets to whoever needs lodging on those nights, Geer said.

The shelters also provide guests free food and service referrals, depending on their circumstances.

Geer said the program began in 2016 because the United Way kept getting calls to its 211 human services helpline from people seeking shelter on cold winter nights.

“Because we have so few shelters (in Westmoreland County), our shelters are generally full. ... We began to ask ourselves if we needed to start an additional shelter,” Geer said. “Instead, we worked with the (two) shelters to figure out how they could make a little more space available with cots on cold-weather nights.”

The Welcome Home Shelter normally serves women and families, while the Union Mission normally serves men.

“There are individuals out there who really struggle to find a warm place to go when there's cold weather,” said Lyndsay Burrik, Welcome Home Shelter executive for Community Wellness and Recovery. “As a collective group, we realized that the shelters had the best resources, since we already do this.”

Last winter, the Greensburg shelter provided 444 nights of shelter to 44 people, Burrik said. Some of them were repeat visitors, and some were families.

The Union Mission, the only men's shelter in Westmoreland County, has 14 beds but won't turn anyone away during the winter if all the beds are full, said Carrie Ridilla, executive assistant.

“Our (clients) are typically men who have been sleeping outside and, once the weather gets inclement, they don't want to do that, obviously,” Ridilla said. “If we have no beds open, they get either a cot or one of the foldout couches.”

Last winter, the Union Mission bused men to the library during the day and provided them with lunch, she said.

The shelters are member agencies and funding recipients of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which serves Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette counties and southern Armstrong County.

To check on shelter availability, call 211, the Westmoreland County Crisis Line at 800-836-6010, the Welcome Home Shelter at 724-838-9133 or the Union Mission at 724-539-3550.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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