Allegheny County and Operation Safety Net® Ready the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter for Individuals Who Are Street Homeless

PITTSBURGH – (November 13, 2013) – The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Community Services and Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's Operation Safety Net® will again operate the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter (SWES) this winter for the safety of people who are street homeless.

Located at the Smithfield United Church of Christ, 620 Smithfield Street, Downtown, the shelter provides temporary, overnight accommodations, professional social services, medical care, and protection from frigid temperatures to people who typically do not use other existing shelter resources during periods of severe winter weather.

The SWES will operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 15, 2014, when the temperature drops to 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and when dangerous winter weather exists or is predicted by the National Weather Service. As in previous years, additional nights will be added, as needed. Persons served and referring organizations can find out if the SWES is activated on a given evening by calling 412.779.1329. The message is updated by noon each day. This phone line is not staffed; therefore, messages should not be left at this number.

In addition to providing basic human services, Operation Safety Net coordinates clinical staff, volunteers, and case management representatives at the shelter. The case management representatives help individuals who come to the shelter access needed services, secure benefits, and find permanent housing. In the past five years, Operation Safety Net has successfully connected more than 900 of the individuals it serves to housing, several of whom previously received services at the SWES.

During the winter of 2012-2013, the SWES operated 62 nights, an increase of 31 nights from the previous winter (2011-2012), which was unseasonably mild by meteorological standards. During the 62 nights it was open, the shelter served an average of 63 people each night. Overall, 643 unduplicated individuals benefited from the shelter's activation, up from 409 the previous winter. The average nightly census was 74 individuals. The highest census of the 2012-2013 season was recorded on February 1, 2013; 105 individuals were served that night. 

The SWES is made possible by funding from Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), Pittsburgh Mercy Health System (PMHS), Operation Safety Net, the National Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a grant from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and donations from private groups and Individuals. Allegheny County Police, Smithfield United Church of Christ, Shepherd's Heart Fellowship, Bethlehem Haven, and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank are important service partners. Monetary donations in support of the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter are welcome. Donations may be made online at www.pmhs.org or mailed to Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's Development Office, 101 Bradford Road, Suite 320, Wexford, PA 15090. Please make checks payable to Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and specify that the gift is intended for Operation Safety Net's Severe Weather Emergency Shelter. To make a donation by telephone, contact Connie Murray, executive director, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Development, at 724.934.3537.  For more information about the SWES, please contact Stephanie Chiappini, program manager, Operation Safety Net, at 412.246.2980.


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About the Allegheny County Department of Human Services 

Allegheny County Department of Human Services is responsible for providing and administering publicly-funded human services to Allegheny County residents. DHS is dedicated to meeting these human services needs, most particularly for the county's most vulnerable populations, through an extensive range of information exchange, prevention, early intervention, case management, crisis intervention and after-care services. 


About Operation Safety Net® 

Operation Safety Net" is Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's award-winning, innovative medical and social service outreach program for the unsheltered homeless population in Allegheny County. It strives to address the circumstances which undermine the mental and physical health of persons served by creating avenues for people who are homeless to access the medical and social services that are necessary for them to improve their quality of life. Since its founding in 1992, Operation Safety Net has reached approximately 10,000 homeless individuals with more than 68,000 visits where they live – in camps along riverbanks, in alleyways, or beneath bridges and highway overpasses - and has successfully helped more than 900 individuals who were once homeless to find homes of their own. In doing so, Operation Safety Net not only assists with providing health care and affordable housing, but also offers this vulnerable population hope, dignity, and a sense of community. Operation Safety Net is part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Catholic Health East, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy. To learn more about Operation Safety Net or to make a donation in support of its important work in the community, visit www.pmhs.org. 


About Pittsburgh Mercy Health System 

Pittsburgh Mercy Health System (PMHS), part of Catholic Health East and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, is one of the region's largest health and social service nonprofits and also one of its largest employers. PMHS includes A Child's Place at Mercy, McAuley Ministries, Mercy Behavioral Health, Mercy Community Health, Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services, Mercy Parish Nurse and Health Ministry Program, Operation Safety Net", and Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center. Together, these PMHS programs and its 1,700 employees serve more than 26,000 individuals annually at more than 60 locations in Southwestern Pennsylvania. To learn more about PMHS or to make a donation in support of its important work in the community, visit www.pmhs.org.