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Fencing out homeless in North Side to restart with new materials

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 12:07 a.m.

PennDOT crews finally have the materials they need to resume work on Wednesday on the North Side to barricade areas under Interstate 279 that the homeless used as makeshift encampments for years, a department spokesman said.

PennDOT and Pittsburgh authorities in early July told people living in three camps that they had to leave, but officials didn't follow through on assurances that they would erect chain-link fencing to prevent the homeless from being there.

“I don't know if they will come (Wednesday) or not. But they probably will,” said Larry Allen, 54, who was living on the Anderson Street property on Tuesday. “It ain't going to be the end of the world. We might hang out next door or on the other corner.”

PennDOT is spending about $225,000 to fence in state-owned properties along Anderson and under the Veterans Bridge, which connects Interstate 579 to I-279 over the Allegheny River. The agency said people living under overpasses, often steps away from busy on- and off-ramps, is a public safety issue.

“I do know people were complaining,” PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said on Tuesday.

Roughly 40 tents occupied the three encampments at one time, said Allen, who is from the North Side. He was one of the last two people remaining.

PennDOT said a problem with the materials required to erect the fencing caused a delay. Crews fenced one area two weeks ago and erected steel posts around two other spaces, including the one where Allen has lived for 16 months.

During that time, Allen accumulated tents, blankets, mattresses, a bicycle and an assortment of charcoal grills that tailgaters abandoned in nearby parking lots that serve fans attending games at PNC Park and Heinz Field. A “No Trespassing” sign hangs above his tent along with two small American flags.

Someone scrawled a message in chalk on a support beam: “Da government won't help the homeless. Will you?”

Allen, who spent 30 years in state prison, said he doesn't need help.

“I'm not going to say society owes me anything,” said the former boxer, who earned 41 cents an hour as a head cook in prison. “I'm addicted to the streets.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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