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Shelters, federal aid not enough to end homelessness in Allegheny County

Shelters, federal aid not enough to end homelessness in Allegheny County
Shelters, federal aid not enough to end homelessness in Allegheny County 03:56

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There are currently more than 800 people in Allegheny County without a place to call home.

While that number has fluctuated over the last decade, county leaders say they're constantly working to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness.

KDKA Investigates found Allegheny County received $23 million this year as part of an annual renewal of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to help fight homelessness in the county.

In addition to that money, through other funding sources, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services deputy director told KDKA the county receives a total of $40 million a year to help fight homelessness, specifically through permanent housing solutions to help families stay off the streets.

"That $23 million is incredibly important to run our system," DHS Deputy Director Abigail Horn said. "We fund a number of agencies with that funding. Mostly on the side of supportive housing."

Horn said that money allows them to help about 6,000 households a year through different aspects of the homeless system.

Looking at the data from the county's annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count, in 2022, 880 people were identified as homeless, with 631 housed in an emergency shelter. One-hundred thirty two were in traditional housing. One-hundred and five were unsheltered. Throughout the years, the numbers have fluctuated:

2021: 692 were identified as homeless.
2020: 887
2019: 774
2018: 783
2017: 1,145
2016: 1,156
2015: 1,424
2014: 1,573

Horn said each year, her team helps on average 1,252 people move into permanent housing. KDKA asked why that number isn't higher.

"Unfortunately, there's a real lack of income-based housing that's available, especially for families," said Remi Harris, a senior manager for services for families experiencing a housing crisis.

Harris added that there is not enough affordable housing in Allegheny County.

"We need more housing," she said. "As you heard before, housing is the cure to homelessness. We have a lack of affordable housing right now and it's only getting worse."

Harris said that because of the lack of housing, more people are staying in homeless shelters longer.

"Simply running shelters does not solve the problem," Horn said. "That's a tiny little Band-Aid, and if you don't have somewhere to move people into where they're actually living in homes, your shelters will become full, and families may end up experiencing homelessness because we wouldn't have anywhere to put them."

Horn said that while the millions of dollars the county receives is crucial to their programs and the community, and also helps with rental assistance, it may not be enough.

"The availability of safe, clean, affordable housing at the end of the day is basically the biggest factor in individuals being able to either stay in housing and never become homeless or for us to be able to help people move out of experiencing homelessness," Horn said. "It's all about affordable housing."

KDKA asked county leaders if more affordable housing could become available in the future, and was told the county already has spent millions of dollars on affordable housing over the last decade, and plans to continue to do so.

According to the 2021 annual Economic Development Housing Report in Allegheny County, nearly 300 new apartment units or homes were built in the county to extend affordable housing options.

However, KDKA learned that only 83 of those were made available to low-income families. The rest were priced at market rate.

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