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Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato says Republican Chair DeMarco shared "misinformation" about homeless housing plan

Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato responds to councilmember's concerns over new housing ini
Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato responds to councilmember's concerns over new housing ini 03:08

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato responded to public criticism from county Republican Committee Chairman Sam DeMarco about her new housing program which is meant to help the homeless, saying he was spreading misinformation online. 

Her goal is to make 500 units available in 500 days to those who are living in shelters or who are homeless.

Councilman DeMarco, who shared his views on X (formerly Twitter) the day after the program was announced, said he was concerned about the potential for seniors to be limited in their ability to access affordable housing.

"I am very concerned about the County Executive's new initiative," he wrote on X.

The concern stems from a call he received two weeks ago, he told KDKA-TV. 

One of his constituents told him she couldn't get into senior housing because rooms were being held for County Executive Innamorato's new housing initiative, he said, adding he was unsure if the woman's story was accurate.

His concerns were magnified upon hearing how a Butler County woman, Sofia Mancing, was attacked this past week in downtown Pittsburgh, he said. 

"I just don't want to see that perpetrated on any of our seniors," DeMarco said.

Writing on X, DeMarco wrote, "housing any of these people with our seniors represents a public safety issue. What steps are being taken to address that?" 

When asked about the call DeMarco received, Innamorato told us it did not make sense.

"People will not be housed in senior centers," she said. "What we are talking about is purchasing abandoned motels, hotels, senior centers, rectories, and turning them into deeply affordable housing units."

DeMarco, when told about Innamorato's response, said it was an idea he could support if there were places where the county would be able to provide services to them. 

He shared how he was concerned people would have to travel to access services if they were scattered in individual units across the county. 

He referenced a program in San Diego that utilizes what's called 'Bridge Shelters' to help people who are homeless. 

"So by having them in one area, one house or one unit, you have the ability to be able to take and provide the services to address their mental illness, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, or, you know, just counseling to try to help them take that next step and prepare for housing if they're ready to do that," DeMarco said.  

Innamorato said they have a "bridge housing" program that is run by the Department of Human Services. 

In addition, DeMarco told us he wants to make sure people like the woman who attacked Sofia Mancing don't end up as the neighbors of those who don't face similar issues. 

"We are going to have to take each person and figure out what their unique needs are," Innamorato responded by saying. "So for some people, it's just housing and it's just helping us find a way for them to support and afford that. For others, they may have mental health needs, they may have a substance use disorder, and they need specialized living quarters and specialized services."

In his tweet, DeMarco said 75% of the homeless population suffers from drug and alcohol addiction, or mental illness. 

"I think that the rhetoric that Councilmember DeMarco is putting out is actively harming our unhoused neighbors," Innamorato said. "It's actively harming senior citizens because it's spreading misinformation and it's not rooted in the reality of what this program is and the data that we have through our Department of Human Services."

That data, she said, shows the vast majority of people who the county helps fall into the lower needs category, and just really need financial help. 

"What we've noticed is that the people who are using our shelter system look different," Innamorato said. "They're older. Many are senior citizens. They're folks without a criminal record, without severe mental or behavioral health issues. They just are economically depressed." 

According to local leaders, last year, shelters were occupied 75% of the time by low-needs individuals, while 46% had some source of income and 76% were people experiencing homelessness for the first time.

DeMarco said the statistic he tweeted comes from a Stanford study.

"I stand by the rhetoric that I said," DeMarco said. "She calls it rhetoric, but these are the facts supported by the studies. None of these are made up."

He said he was unsure about who had been surveyed locally because the data has not been provided to him.

"The homeless population at writ or at large here, those are the numbers and those are the facts," DeMarco said. 

He explained that there should be an open discussion among county leaders.

"This was developed by the county executive. There was no input or no talk with the county council," DeMarco said. "Everything that I have as far as knowledge today comes from media reports."

The county executive told us they sent out a press release and summary of the program to all their elected officials.

Asked about if he saw the press release, DeMarco said it only came after the announcement. He said it did not address his questions related to housing seniors. 

DeMarco was invited to the event where the program was announced. He told us he declined to attend because he was unsure if he supported the plan since the details were not available to him.

"It seems like perhaps Mr. DeMarco is not interested in reading about the program or attending or asking questions in a meaningful way which he could get the answers to fairly easily," Innamorato said. 

DeMarco shared that communication with the county executive's office and council is frequently lacking. Innamorato said her office communicates with every member of council many times a week depending on the issue. 

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