Photo by Jennifer Baron.

Residents, business owners and other stakeholders gathered at Point Park University last week to discuss charting a path toward a safer neighborhood.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) organized the meeting, which took place on Friday and included representatives from the police department and the city’s social services agencies. The gathering had been planned before Thursday morning’s apparently random stabbing of two women at a Downtown bus shelter.

“Friday’s meeting allowed for a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss a range of topics including support services for individuals experiencing homelessness, police outreach and how we can create stronger connections with the community of residents, business and property owners that are interested in ensuring the collective growth and investment continues along this corridor,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president & CEO of the PDP.

A major goal among stakeholders is to ensure that the economic progress being made Downtown can continue, but there seems to be a growing focus on assisting those who are struggling.

“One of the most important things to remember is that being poor, homeless or a panhandler is not criminal,” says Waldrup. And “situations that may make someone uncomfortable,” he says, may not actually be crimes.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), which owns significant real estate in the area, is one of several community organizations working to revitalize Downtown’s once prospering retail economy.

Karamagi Rujumba, director of development and communications for PHLF, tells NEXTpittsburgh that their partner organizations have been reporting increased levels of homelessness and public intoxication, particularly in the Wood Street area, since early May.

Addressing that problem can benefit those who are struggling, while also helping maintain the progress toward revitalizing Downtown.

“We have grown concerned that some of the gains that we’ve been making,” says Rujumba, “might fall off if we don’t address this issue.”

Waldrup says the public forum on Friday raised a number of practical solutions to the public’s concerns about safety.

“We would like to see more visible police presence, specifically in the evening hours,” says Waldrup. “We would also like the city and county to collectively look at the resources that are dedicated to helping individuals experiencing homelessness in Downtown and determine what gaps might exist in meeting their needs.”

He adds, “If gaps exist, we are committed to advocating for additional resources to ensure that individuals interested in receiving support can have access to it.”

The Mayor’s office declined to comment about the requests made at the meeting.

Though Waldrup and Rujumba are hoping to see short-term progress from the city government, both development experts say addressing the root causes of the situation (mental illness, addiction, homelessness) in the long term will require investments from every corner of our community.

“We are grateful for the support of the police, but this is a complex issue that is going to require greater investment from everyone,” says Waldrup. “Social service agencies, nonprofits, public safety and others, if we hope to solve these challenges.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.