Homeless people who don't typically use one of the other emergency shelters are encouraged to go to 620 Smithfield Street during especially harsh weather: temperatures of 25 degrees or less, freezing rain, heavy snowfall, low wind chills, etc. A 24-hour information line (412-779-1329) provides a recorded message as to whether the shelter will be open.
The Severe Weather Emergency Shelter in the Smithfield United Church of Christ at Smithfield and Strawberry Way, centrally located in downtown Pittsburgh, also provides food, clothing, health care, and counseling.
The shelter is operated by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's Operation Safety Net. The latter coordinates employees and volunteers to staff the shelter, as well as securing sleeping bags, linens, winter apparel, and food. Funding is provided by various public and private entities.
Operation Safety Net Program Director Linda Sheets said, "The word spreads really quickly among the individuals that are staying outside. It's quite amazing how that communication gets around to everybody. We're happy about those individuals that will access the shelters."
There are a handful of people who won't come into a shelter even in harsh weather, according to Sheets. She says that one such person died for that reason, but because of the hard work of many organizations, Pittsburgh has few casualties compared to other cities with a similar climate.
Last winter, the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter was open 64 nights, serving 500 people — an average of 88 people each night, 85 percent men and 15 percent women. Last year, Operation Safety Net case managers secured services and benefits for 135 people and permanent housing for 65. Over the past five years, housing has been provided for over 780 people.
Checks as donations payable to Pittsburgh Mercy Health System can be mailed to 101 Bradford Road, Suite 320, Wexford, PA 15090, with a note that the gift is intended for Operation Safety Net and the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter. Online donations are accepted at the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's website.