PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — City leaders are calling for action on a sudden spike in homelessness and the proliferation of tent cities.
The Pittsburgh City Council is calling for immediate action to address what it calls a “public health emergency.”
Over the past few weeks, KDKA-TV has shown an unprecedented surge in homelessness in the encampments, the tent cities that have sprung up in parks and on trails along rivers.
“This is a public health crisis right now, the homeless situation in our city,” said Jerrell Gilliam, director of the Light of Life Mission.
The Light of Life mission on the north side is now well oversubscribed, even though 25 cots are set up in the cafeteria every night. It still has to push people away, many of whom now live in tents.
While the city hopes the crisis will subside when the new downtown shelter opens in the fall, Gilliam said it will be a drop in the bucket.
“It’s going to bring about 90 new beds to the system. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of people right now,” he said.
That’s why three Pittsburgh City Council members are introducing a bill Tuesday that would declare the outbreak a “public health emergency.”
Members are giving the Gainey administration two weeks to come up with proposals to “address the public health emergency related to homelessness in the city of Pittsburgh and propose temporary but urgent policies and programs until more permanent solutions are codified.”
The three council members, Theresa Cale-Smith, Deb Gross and Bobby Wilson, declined to comment until the bill is introduced, but Gilliam said such decisions include finding places like an empty hotel.
“Finding rooms that can be converted quickly. These are usually closed hospital buildings, hotels, and sometimes dormitories,” said Gilliam.
Some groups have given homeless people tents to live in, but Gilliam calls that a mistake, perpetuating a bad situation.
“We want to find solutions that are dignified and respectful,” Gilliam said. “I understand the kindness behind it. But they often don’t take into account that now that a person is in a tent, they also need other resources around them.”