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People gather into the late evening on the last night to stay at Smithfield shelter, Tuesday, June 20, 2023. // Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource

Smithfield homeless shelter in downtown Pittsburgh exposed frayed safety net and tested county compassion

An emergency fallback as cold weather loomed, the Smithfield shelter became a lightning rod, a community and a telling moment in the region’s effort to address the housing crisis.


By Stephanie Strasburg and Eric Jankiewicz, PublicSource

“There was a blessing the other day,” Dee said, sitting by the gray stone steps of the Smithfield United Church of Christ shelter.

As she sat among plastic bags of other people’s belongings, she’d watched money float through the air outside the shelter, where she’d stayed on the sidewalk for about three months.

“A random person stood right there, had a bunch of money. He just threw it up in the air,” she remembered.

Her bad knees wouldn’t allow her to get up. Dee could only watch others scramble as the person threw bills above the hot June sidewalk.

That day, as most days, she was hungry, and it was well before 7 p.m., when the shelter at 620 Smithfield St. would open and someone might bring her a meal.

Aubrey Plesh, center, left, founder of Team PSBG, and PSBG team member Amanda Fry, right, call area shelters as people approach the steps for help on the first night on which the Smithfield shelter was closed. The two stayed until 7a.m. to keep vigil on the steps for those who may not know about the closure. // Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource

To finish reading, click here. This article was originally published by PublicSource, a nonprofit newsroom serving the Pittsburgh region. Sign up for its free weekly newsletters here.

“Welcome to Club Smithfield!” shouted Powder from atop an upside-down Turner’s Tea crate on the Smithfield church steps, on the afternoon of Friday, June 23, 2023. Though he didn’t stay at the shelter, he showed up regularly to sell cigarettes, cans of Colt 45 and the gift bags and jars covered in colorful stickers. Inside his backpack, Powder kept a stack of index cards with his handwritten autobiography. // Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource

Sam returns with his briefcase to the Smithfield shelter, Monday, June 19, 2023. // Photo by Stephanie Strasburg / PublicSource

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