Pittsburgh youth mentoring program opening Downtown to address loitering | TribLIVE.com

Pittsburgh youth mentoring program opening Downtown to address loitering

Bob Bauder

A nonprofit North Side youth mentoring program is opening a storefront in Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center with hopes of alleviating problems with kids loitering and fighting Downtown.

The Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County on Thursday approved a five-month, rent-free lease with Youth Places for an empty storefront along Penn Avenue that once housed a UPS store. In exchange for the free space, Youth Places will construct restrooms inside the facility.

It will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Staffers will walk or drive students to bus stops when they leave and patrol Downtown streets to encourage participation.

About 1,700 children in grades 6 through 12 attend schools located Downtown and another 1,300 catch buses daily on their way to and from schools throughout Pittsburgh, officials said. Fights and several shootings have erupted in the past because of the large number of kids congregating in the same general area.

The program is part of an effort by the city and Downtown stakeholders to resolve problems in the Golden Triangle that also include homelessness, panhandling and violence.

“Youth Places is part of the solution, ” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who chairs the SEA board. “It’s not the biggest part, obviously, but, in my view, you start young and you mentor these young folks, and that will keep them off the street and, hopefully, some of the bad things that happen around events with the youth Downtown, that will start to decrease.”

The deal comes with an option for a three-year extension than would include monthly rent.

Youth Places President and CEO Cynthia James said the organization hopes to open by late October and would offer a wide range of educational and mentoring programs, including a science lab, homework support and a small business incubator.

James said the organization wanted be sure kids participate before entering into a long-term lease.

“We want to make sure that this is something that works for youth, first,” she said. “Secondly, we want it to work for the Downtown residents, partners, etc., as well. We also have to see if the demand becomes greater than anticipated.”

The space can hold up to 35 kids. Officials said they would work with the organization to find alternative quarters if the program exceeds that limit.

Pittsburgh has opened a police substation Downtown, stepped up patrols to address problems in the business district and is working with local nonprofits and government agencies to help the homeless.

“This is a great program for youth, and is exactly the kind of positive thing we can accomplish when government, nonprofits and Downtown stakeholders work together,” said Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto.

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said his organization is working with city, county and federal officials in an attempt to find options for the homeless.

He said the group dubbed Downtown Safety Coalition has been engaged in “broad-based discussions” about all of the problems.

“Between Youth Places, the increase in city police services and the homeless outreach, this is hitting on the primary concerns that we all have,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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