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Homeless receive help from private Alle-Kiski Valley groups

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
The Rev. Steve Gabor, president of Lighthouse Ministries Mission, is shown in this photo from January 2016 preparing to open for people needing a meal or place to warm up on Fifth Avenue in Arnold.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
The Rev. Steve Gabor, president of Lighthouse Ministries Mission, is shown in this photo from January 2016 preparing to open for people needing a meal or place to warm up on Fifth Avenue in Arnold.
Jeff Dunsworth, who is homeless after living in New Kensington and Pittsburgh, is grateful for a hot meal and a warm room at the Lighthouse Ministries Mission on Fifth Avenue in Arnold on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Jeff Dunsworth, who is homeless after living in New Kensington and Pittsburgh, is grateful for a hot meal and a warm room at the Lighthouse Ministries Mission on Fifth Avenue in Arnold on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.
Jeff Dunsworth, who is homeless after living in New Kensington and Pittsburgh, sips hot coffee in his sparsely furnished room at the Lighthouse Ministries Mission on Fifth Avenue in Arnold, on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Jeff Dunsworth, who is homeless after living in New Kensington and Pittsburgh, sips hot coffee in his sparsely furnished room at the Lighthouse Ministries Mission on Fifth Avenue in Arnold, on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.

No county-funded warming shelters exist for the homeless in the Alle-Kiski Valley, but three private groups are helping and more aid may be on the way.

When the temperature dips below 25 degrees, Allegheny County operates warming shelters in and close to Pittsburgh. Unlike a homeless shelter, warming centers are buildings opened so the public can get out of the extreme cold for short periods.

There also would be warming centers in the Alle-Kiski Valley if that need was shown in annual homeless surveys, Allegheny County spokeswoman Aimee Downs said.

But Downs said such a need hasn't been demonstrated here, during the past six years.

Pittsburgh Mercy is a private group that, through its Operation Safety Net, offers services for the homeless and others across all of Allegheny County.

Most of its homeless services focuses on Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Wilkinsburg and McKeesport, but Pittsburgh Mercy will visit the Valley if asked, said Chris Roach, director of outreach operations.

“We don't want anybody to be left behind,” Roach said.

More challenges

There aren't any homeless warming centers or shelters across the Allegheny River in Westmoreland County.

At present, volunteers can drive any homeless people identified in the New Kensington area to new shelters in Greensburg and Latrobe, said Bobbi Watt Geer, regional vice president of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Those warming centers, operated by local organizations in those towns and funded by the United Way, opened this week.

“We have volunteers and a call-in program ready to help,” said Geer.

The United Way started to look at homeless needs last year and had discussions about what to do in the Alle-Kiski Valley, she said.

The organization wants to see what happens at the Greensburg and Latrobe centers this winter.

“We want to see what happens at our first centers — how much they are utilized, that type of thing,” Geer said. “Since summer, we have been talking about other areas including the north, and it's a very big county.”

Local programs stand alone

That leaves two other privately funded organizations to help in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches in Harrison has three programs to help homeless families left out in the cold. Two of them can help individuals, too.

One provides overnight shelter for families and individuals in churches, according to said Karen Smail, the association's executive director.

“We provide a day center for these people, too,” Smail said.

The association of churches also has a 22-unit permanent facility for low-income individuals with a disability and for low-income families with at least one disabled member.

It also has a transitional care program that helps families are getting ready to move into their own housing but still need help preparing for the future, Snair said.

In the Valley, only Lighthouse Ministries in Arnold provides a routine warming shelter.

It also has very limited overnight accommodations for a few homeless men.

“We three have beds for homeless men, none for women now,” the Rev. Steve Gabor said. “But our dream is to have a homeless shelter for men in our building and one for women across the alley.”

Gabor said the three beds at the ministry are almost always filled even before snow falls or temperatures plunge.

Gabor says many of the area's homeless find a friend or neighbor's couch for the short term during snowstorms or bitter cold.

Safe shelters should be an alternative, he said.

The need is there, but the money hasn't been, said Gabor, who, with his wife, Rebecca, provide meals, a food bank and church services.

Some once-homeless people are now part of the ministry, he said.

New Kensington police Chief Jim Klein said there are no public warming shelters in the city.

When officers find homeless people on the street during dangerous weather, police try to find local relatives or contact the Salvation Army and make arrangements, Klein said.

If nothing else works, the homeless can be brought temporarily to the police station to get warm, the chief said.

Tarentum, Harrison, Leechburg, Vandergrift and Bell Township also are among the many municipalities that can provide emergency shelter during cold weather emergencies.

Leechburg police call Community Action to help homeless people and the fire department opens its doors.

“If there is an extended period of snow or cold weather, the fire department opens up for anyone who needs help,” police Chief Mike Diebold said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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