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Allegheny County councilperson questioning whether homeless encampments are being targeted

Councilperson Bethany Hallam believes fires set under West End Bridge are targeting homeless populat
Councilperson Bethany Hallam believes fires set under West End Bridge are targeting homeless populat 02:23

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- An Allegheny County Council member is taking action to stop the violence she and others say the unhoused are facing in Pittsburgh.

At Large Council Representative Bethany Hallam was driving on Sunday when she spotted a plume of smoke next to the West End Bridge. Worried that it could be a homeless encampment set on fire, she turned around and headed to the scene.

Multiple cars appeared to have been set on fire. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire worked to quickly extinguish the flames. While it has not officially been classified as an arson, Hallam believes it was.

In this case, she realized there was no active homeless encampment, but she believed whoever set the fire was targeting the homeless. It's something she says she's seen happen time and time again.

"So, about once every few weeks, we talk to homeless folks who have their tents slashed, who have their tents set on fire, their belongings set on fire," Hallam said.

They are people she regularly speaks to through outreach she and others do at encampment and shelters. 

"We are very concerned that it is intentionally targeting our homeless populations, the people that we love, the people that were trying to get on their feet, and it's just pretty devastating," Hallam said.

Last month, there was a fire at a homeless encampment underneath a different part of the same bridge. She thinks the fires are connected.

She does not have faith that authorities will get to the bottom of what is happening, so she is, in effect, investigating on her own through speaking with homeless people. 

"Talking to people, folks trust us because we come out with supplies," Hallam said. "We're just doing whatever we can to try and find out how we can stop this from happening." 

She has strong words for whoever has been setting the fires. 

"You're a jagoff. These are folks who need our help, who don't need to be targeted any more than they are by a system that is not built to protect them," Hallam said. "If we see you, it won't be good for you."

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