Updated: County will activate still-unspecified backup shelter if temps drop to 26

Erin Dalton, director at Allegheny County Department of Human Services, is seen through a news camera as she speaks to the press about the county’s plans for winter shelter and other services for people who are unhoused on Nov. 15, 2023, at ACDHS headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

As Allegheny County looks to develop more permanent, supportive housing, shuttles or buses will transport unhoused people to an as-yet-undislosed location in an emergency.

by Venuri SiriwardaneStephanie Strasburg and Eric Jankiewicz

Update (11/30/23): Coming off a cold snap, Allegheny County officials said they will open an unspecified emergency shelter if the temperature this season drops below 26 degrees.

The county’s Department of Human Services [ACDHS] announced that it has worked with the City of Pittsburgh and enacted a “Code Blue Action Plan” when temperatures drop below 26 between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. The announcement came a day after the county’s Homeless Advisory Board recommended to ACDHS Director Erin Dalton and Chief Operating and Administrative Officer Lisa Frank that a threshold of 32 degrees be set and asked that they find more beds for the area’s overtaxed shelter system. 

Dalton previously declined to define the severe weather conditions that would spur the county to open an emergency facility. 

This is the first winter season in decades that the county declined to open the longtime Emergency Winter Shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ, Downtown. ACDHS previously said it would find an alternative space but Thursday’s announcement did not provide any details on location. The county did not immediately respond to a follow up inquiry. 

This week, temperatures dropped to 19 degrees on Wednesday, according to NWS, and 21 degrees on Tuesday. Meanwhile, most shelters in the area reported at-capacity, according to the county’s Administrator of Homeless Services Andy Halfhill. But with no code blue in place, no extra measures were taken. 

ACDHS now recommends people in need of shelter during code blue events first go to Second Avenue Commons, where 40 beds are provided in an overflow area. When those spaces fill the county will transport people to the unspecified severe weather emergency shelter.


Second Avenue Commons, a facility with SRO units, a shelter, and a community engagement center for people experiencing homelessness, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Uptown. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
Second Avenue Commons, a facility with SRO units, a shelter and a community engagement center for people experiencing homelessness, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Uptown.  (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)


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