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Councilmembers searching for solutions to Downtown homelessness crisis

Councilmembers searching for solutions to Downtown homelessness crisis
Councilmembers searching for solutions to Downtown homelessness crisis 02:41

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - They're frustrated with the lack of progress in addressing the crisis of homelessness and are demanding action. 

Members of the City Council say encampments in Downtown Pittsburgh must come down, and people living in tents be provided a safe place to live.

Winter's on the way, and this is the third year in a row for encampments like this in and around Downtown. City Council members say this is now unacceptable and say we need an immediate solution.

Just down Grant Street from City Hall sits a sprawling encampment. Councilman Anthony Coghill paid a visit and said the situation is dangerous for people like Alesha, who now live here, especially when temperatures drop.

"We really want to get you off the street before the snow starts. Because times get rough in the winter," Coghill said.

He also heard from those who work nearby, who say they see drug deals, people engaging in sex acts and defecating on the street.

"You can't have this in front of an office building," one worker said.

"I think the folks here deserve better, and I think folks like you, who depend on customers and clients, deserve better, too," Coghill added.

The Gainey administration says it won't remove these tents until people are offered housing, but three years into this homeless crisis, Coghill and other council members say the encampments cannot remain.

While he proposes designating a more remote and secluded area where people can pitch tents and receive services, Council President Theresa Kail-Smith wants to buy an empty building.

"I don't care who buys the building. I just feel like get a building. Identify a building. Get these people off the street and provide wrap-around services," Kail-Smith said.

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services is expected to release its winter plan to provide housing late this week or early next. But homelessness in the county has been on the rise, growing to an estimated 913 people last winter.

At the same time, it's not expected to reopen the Smithfield Shelter this winter. If there isn't sufficient shelter, Coghill says immediate action is needed.

"There is a short-term answer that's better than this. That's putting everyone together in one common space."

Is there housing and shelter available, and is there an alternative to life on the street?

We'll know that when the county releases its winter plan, but for now, tents like these remain entrenched in and around Downtown. 

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