From A Hot Meal To A Ride To The Doctor, South Side Woman Connects City’s Displaced With Services

Nov 27, 2017

On a sidewalk in the South Side, Aubrey Plesh is serving a hot, home-cooked meal off a folding table. It's covered with loaded mashed potatoes, chicken and gravy, and chicken marsala.

More than a dozen people have showed up on this chilly Sunday night for the outdoor meal. They're often referred to in a way that Plesh rejects.

"Homelessness, or homeless, is a very confining term," said Plesh.

She prefers to use a different term.

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"We say 'displaced,' because it's a more accurate term for saying that someone isn't exactly where or how they want to be," said Plesh; similarly, she refers to someone who has a home in the "traditional" sense as "having walls" or "being walled."

Plesh has been running Team PSBG for about 18 months now and describes the organization as a bridge for the displaced. 

“I don’t have any direct services myself in terms of housing, work, or anything like that. There is an entity for everything that already exists. My job is to get people to those entities," said Plesh.

One such entity is Just Harvest, a South Side non-profit fighting hunger in underserved communities. Amanda Fry, the organization's volunteer coordinator, said Plesh will often walk in with five people at a time to help them get food stamps.

“Aubrey and Team PSBG will literally go into a homeless camp and they’ve got a rapport with this population," said Fry.

One of the Team PSBG clients at the Sunday dinner was Jessica, who asked not to use her last name. She said when she got here from Oklahoma, she was living on the street and she didn’t have access to medical care.

Then, she met Plesh.

“She literally will pick you up and take you to your doctor’s appointment and sit in that office with you," said Jessica, adding, with a chuckle, "She made me get my shots."

And more recently, Plesh got Jessica connected with Allegheny Link, a housing assistance service run by the county.

"I actually just moved into my new place last night," said Jessica.

Plesh explained that, for many people, it’s not easy to just walk into a building and ask a stranger for what they need.

"It's very hard to advocate for yourself, because there's a lot of emotion when it's happening to you. You can't see outside the box. When you have somebody else who can be your mouthpiece, it really takes away the sting," said Plesh.

Plesh’s partner at Team PSBG, Brendan Dorsey, goes by “Silent B” because he hardly used to talk to anyone. When he met Plesh about a year ago, Dorsey said he was living an isolated life in a tent by the river in the South Side.

"I put myself there because I didn't want to be a part of society anymore," said Dorsey.

Plesh helped him switch clinics to get appropriate care for hepatitis C and a host of mental health issues including depression, social anxiety and OCD. Dorsey kicked alcoholism along the way, and he now has a home with walls.

Today, Team PSBG’s client list has grown to more than 100 people, largely through word of mouth in the displaced community, and they’ve started using Delanie’s Coffee on East Carson Street as an unofficial daytime office.

"I was very honest with them. I told them, 'We’re going to be bringing the same people that have been on your corner at 18th Street panhandling and talk to them and try to help them,'" said Plesh. "They welcomed us with open arms."

Plesh said it's hard to know what the future holds for Team PSBG: the organization runs on a small amount of donations and a credit that she opened personally. For now, she said, she and Dorsey will continue to take things one day at a time.

"I can’t imagine not doing this. It took me a while to realize, but this is my purpose,” said Plesh.