Rendering of the future homeless shelter Downtown, courtesy of DLA+ Architecture & Interior Design

A new five-story, 45,000-square-foot homeless shelter is coming to Downtown Pittsburgh, made possible by a collaboration that includes both UPMC and Highmark.

The first of its kind in Allegheny County, the low-barrier shelter for adults and their pets will offer services for those dealing with the complex issues of homelessness, including addiction, unemployment and physical and behavioral health.

The year-round shelter will be located on Second Avenue near the Liberty Bridge. The project cost is estimated at $21 million.

Highmark and the PNC Foundation each contributed $5 million to the project, while UPMC provided $5 million via in-kind services. Other contributors include ACTION-Housing, the Allegheny Conference, Allegheny County, Allegheny County Health Network, the Office of Mayor William Peduto, DLA+ Architecture & Interior Design, the Hillman Family Foundation, Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, and PJ Dick.

“Having a home is a basic need for everyone,” says Linda Metropulos, special consultant for ACTION-Housing. “We might look the other way when we see someone who is experiencing homelessness, sitting on the sidewalk, sleeping in an alleyway, or waiting for a cold-weather shelter to open. But when you stop to think about where this person can go at the end of the day when they are exhausted or need a shower or where their next meal will come from, you realize just how hard his or her life really is.

“While short-term help can be found, long-term solutions will require a community-sized response. This collaborative effort is breathtaking in its scope and an incredible show of compassion and generosity that is needed to truly serve those members of the Pittsburgh community who are most in need.”

The shelter will include:

• Client services, including care for shelter, drop-in and single-room occupancy populations. The case management team will assess the needs of occupants and navigate them to appropriate resources and supportive services, including a small clinic for physical and behavioral health services as well as alcohol and other drug treatment programs.
• Drop-in center with personal hygiene facilities, laundry, snacks and client services for individuals experiencing homelessness, but who are not necessarily staying at the facility.
• 95 beds with room for 42 overflow beds in group sleeping rooms with dedicated personal hygiene facilities, along with a living room and locker storage.
• Mail services, important to those without a permanent address.
• A singular area to include lounges, a library and computer room, kitchen, dining and outdoor plaza space and seating.
• 42 single-room occupancy units to facilitate the transition to independent housing.
• Adequate quiet room and support space, workstations and a kitchenette for staff.

Rendering of the future Downtown homeless shelter courtesy of DLA+ Architecture & Interior Design.

“The UPMC clinic is like nothing else in this city,” says Metropolus, referring to the clinic planned for the shelter. “It’s a behavioral and medical clinic, which is really unique.”

Allegheny County did a count in January, finding 887 people experiencing homelessness, 113 more than in 2019. It’s not known yet, but is very likely that the pandemic and the resulting economic hardship have increased these numbers.

This shelter will help to care for that homeless population.

“Because it’s a low-barrier shelter, it’ll let people come in and start rebuilding their lives,” says Metropulos. “This shelter will allow people to actually live in the shelter portion for a short-term period of time until they transition out to more permanent housing. They’ll have a bed, lockers. Low-barrier means those with addiction issues can still come in. People with dogs can come in.”

Construction will get underway in December or January and the project is scheduled for completion by January 2022.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife,...