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Warming Centers Open For Those In Need Amid Bitter Temps

By: Shelley Bortz, Jennifer Borrasso, and Briana Smith

PITTSBURGH Pa. (KDKA) - With bitter cold temperatures and a brutal wind chill expected overnight, warming centers across the area have opened to people in need and those experiencing homelessness.

"I'm extremely grateful," said Chelsea Burkhammer, who has been experiencing homeless off and on for 12 years. Suffering from drug addiction, she depends on places like TRAILS Ministries for a place to warm up on a day like Monday or for a cup of coffee and a snack.

"If it wasn't for places like this, there'd be no place to warm up sometimes. I've lived in abandoned houses in the middle of winter. If it weren't for the library or here, it'd be kind of cold," said Burkhammer.

WATCH: KDKA's Shelley Bortz reports


TRAILS Ministries is for people who may have somewhere to sleep at night but nowhere to go during the day. They also provide food and clothing to those in need.

"They utilize our digital services -- if they need to do job hunting, if they need to do treatment that's done virtually, they can utilize our WiFi, things like that. We provide gift cards, we provide system navigation. If they need help with housing, we connect them to the right resources," said Sally Ricci with TRAILS Ministries.

In Pittsburgh, the line to get into the Smithfield United Church of Christ wrapped around the building.

WATCH: KDKA's Briana Smith reports


"Be aware of your sisters and brothers that are out here that are cold," said Pittsburgh's Mercy Operation Safety Net medical director and founder Dr. Jim Withers. "And don't judge people you don't know. Everyone has a right to life and comfort and to health."

At 6:50, Charles Cottle said he'd been waiting since 4:30.

"I don't have any family that I can go to. It's this place or sleeping under the bridge or something," he said.

Pittsburgh Mercy coordinates overflow capacity with other area shelters such as the Safehaven Hotel and Bethlehem Haven.

COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and flu shots are available to all shelter guests. Everybody wears masks
and practices social distancing. Prior to the pandemic, Pittsburgh Mercy says about 150 men and women could stay a night. Now it's only 68 men and women go to a different shelter called Shepherd's Heart.

One thing KDKA's Jennifer Borrasso heard from a couple of people was they wished the shelter opened up earlier than 7 p.m. It's open through mid-March. Pittsburgh Mercy says they do have ways to get people to the shelter if someone needs a ride.

A list of warming centers in the Pittsburgh area can be found here.


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