Operation Safety Net’s Severe Weather Emergency Shelter opened two days early this year with more than four times the expected turnout.
When the temperature drops down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net opens a Severe Weather Emergency Shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ in downtown Pittsburgh to protect homeless people from the cold.
The shelter has overnight accommodations, social services and medical care.
“Our main goal is to keep people safe from the weather and try to engage them to existing services, build relationships with them so they trust someone enough to get involved with services that they’re eligible for, connect them to income and medical treatment and ultimately housing,” said Program Manager Stephanie Chiappini.
The shelter usually operates between Nov. 15 and March 15, but Chiappini said they had to open early this year — Nov. 13 — because of lower than normal temperatures.
“It was kind of a shock,” Chiappini said. “The first day we opened last year we had 20 or so people show up for the first few nights and didn’t have up to 80 people until January, and the first night this year was one night’s notice, we had over 80 people.”
She said she is trying to figure out why there was such a large number of people for this time of year.
“I’m touching base with some other homeless providers this week to try and figure out how we can connect a lot of these people to services because it is more than we anticipated and I’d like to look at the data and try and figure out what’s in play here, why we’re seeing this increased number,” Chiappini said.
Chiappini said they have a medical clinic at the shelter that helps with many of the issues seen in freezing temperatures such as frostbite and trench foot.
She said the main products they give out are socks, and they have a list of needed items on their website.
Chiappini said there are always more people to help.
“Every year we connect so many people to services and housing and we’re constantly making progress,” Chiappini said. “And then every winter comes around and it seems like there’s new people and we’re treading water.”