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Light Of Life Mission's Expansion Plans Draw Both Praise, Concerns

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Since the 1950s, the poor and destitute have found a meal and a place to sleep at the Light of Life Mission on the North Side.

But there have been complaints about people milling outside, and conditions inside have never been optimal. Though always safe and clean, the mission's low ceilings and a shortage of space have always meant cramped quarters for its clients.

"It's warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but there's not a lot of space to move around," Kate Wadsworth, a Light of Life worker, said.

So, most of the mission's operations are moving into a vacant Pittsburgh school building across West Park on Ridge Avenue. Plans call for the renovation of the old classrooms into spacious four-person suites for homeless clients, as well as to supply meals, clothing and other services.

Its promises to beautify the exterior of the building and keep the clients on-site have gone a long way to win the blessing of the surrounding neighborhood.

"We want to serve the homeless with dignity," said Light of Life's Craig Schweiger, "not right out in front of the public. Having a place where they can stay inside and outside and have room, have some privacy and a place for their belongings will be a benefit."

But it's the mission's additional plans to build a brand new, so-called satellite center on a city-owned vacant lot about a mile away that has met with stiffer opposition.

"My girlfriend and I walk down here. You don't want it's going to attract. They could follow people," said Joe Schmitt, of Millvale.

The lot is just off River Avenue and the Allegheny River Trail, and some of the runners and parents with strollers that use it, fear it will become a magnet for homeless loitering and encampments.

Others have raised concerns about the center's proximity to the Sarah Heinz House and it's after-school programs for kids. Adjoining building owners challenged the plan before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

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City Councilwoman Darlene Harris says the North Side already shoulders too much of the homeless burden and objects to what she sees as Light of Life's expansion.

"They've always been there, but when you start picking up and making two sites on the North Side, I think it's a little unfair," she said.

But despite the objections, both centers have the support of the Peduto administration; and last week, the Zoning Board approved the necessary variances. Objectors will have 30 days to challenge in court.

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