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Legislative Round Table aims to End Homelessness

Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09

Attendees at Monday's Legislative Round Table Focusing on Ending Homelessness in Allegheny County meeting discussed the lack of connection and cooperation among different agencies and departments at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

The meeting, held halfway through the county's 10-year plan to end homelessness, addressed the issue of how to consolidate resources to achieve a synergy effect.

Those who are homeless or live in low-income housing programs are also likely to have issues involving other funding programs, such as mental health, State Sen. John Pippy said.

"We're trying to work with the public welfare, the public health and the public education," said Pippy, the outspoken advocate to end homelessness. "We have to do more as government, but there're going to be ways to start to find better synergies. We can really start to look at it from a holistic point of view."

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto said, in spite of difference, he agrees with Pippy on core issues and shares the holistic point of view.

The city started a dialogue with the county on how to address the issue of homelessness and panhandling around 2004, Peduto said. However, officials were confusing panhandler issues with the homeless who needed assistance because of their mental health issues or physical issues, the councilman added. 

"It was really awakening for most city officials that we do have a role to play and our role is much more than dealing with the issue from a public safety view point," Peduto said.

The city now hopes to solve homelessness holistically as part of neighborhood revitalization projects. Peduto added that stabilizing the neighborhood is a critical component to attracting big corporations into Pittsburgh, such as Google, which has expanded significantly in the city. 

Despite the government's efforts to control the issue of homelessness, several members of the audience expressed their frustration with the difficulty of accessing information for controlling and finding information about the agencies that provide services for the homeless. Drew Miller, board member of the Community Human Services, and organizer of the meeting, collected questions from an audience of about 40 people and read them out.

"So far what we care about is solely what their organization or their department does. Our next step is to get together and update our task list so that it won't be a problem," Pippy said.

Marc Cherna, director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) of Allegheny County, made a presentation about the achievements the department has made in solving homelessness over the past five years.

A lot of panhandlers are not homeless, according to Cherna.

"There are people who take [the] bus into town, panhandle during the day and go home at night, so we have to be really careful to call them homeless. The homeless are a smaller number. They're not that visible," Cherna said.

The number of unsheltered population has dropped from 297 to 119 from December 2000 to January 2010, according to a point-in-time survey conducted by the DHS.

During his presentation, Cherna pointed out that permanent housing is the trend because both transitional housing and shelters have time limits which cannot provide continuity, especially for families.

"So, really, the outcomes that we're looking for and what we're starting for is permanent housing for people, "said Cherna, who has worked in human services as a youth worker over 35 years.

Brian McDowell, a Washington School District counselor who helps homeless students on a daily basis, commented on the collaboration between government and agencies.

"The government works on a one-on-one basis with agencies, more … as a panel discussion. We need to see how as a whole, the government can work together with different agencies, "McDowel said,

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