South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

Severe weather emergency shelter prepared to again serve homeless


This winter, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) Office of Community Services and Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net® will again operate the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter (SWES) for the safety and well-being of people who are experiencing street homelessness.

A men’s shelter, at the Smithfield United Church of Christ, 620 Smithfield Street, Downtown, and a women’s shelter, in Uptown, provide them with temporary overnight accommodations, professional social services, basic medical care, protection from frigid temperatures, and meals. The vulnerable individuals served at the SWES typically do not use other existing community shelter resources during periods of severe winter weather.

The SWES will operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. November 15 through March 15, 2016, when the temperature drops to or below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or when dangerous winter weather exists or is predicted by the National Weather Service. As in previous years, additional nights will be added, if needed.

Persons served and referring organizations can find out if the SWES is open on a given evening by following DHS and Pittsburgh Mercy on social media or by calling 412-779-1329. The pre-recorded phone message will be 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 health and human services, Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net coordinates clinical professionals, volunteers, and care managers to help individuals who come to the shelter access physical and behavioral health services, secure benefits, and find permanent housing. In the past several years, Operation Safety Net has successfully connected more than 1,200 of the individuals it serves to housing, many of whom previously accessed services at the SWES.

February 2015 was the second coldest February on record, according to local meteorologists. The average daily temperature was 18 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 12 degrees below normal. During the winter of 2014-2015, the SWES operated 73 nights, nine fewer nights than the previous winter, and served 647 unduplicated individuals; seven percent were over age 60. On an average night, the shelter served 90 individuals; 88 percent were men, 12 percent were women.

The Severe Weather Emergency Shelter (SWES) is made possible by funding from Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, the City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, the National Emergency Food and Shelter Program, as well as monetary donations and volunteers from individuals and corporate, civic, and faith-based organizations. Allegheny County Police, Smithfield United Church of Christ, Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, Catholic Men’s Fellowship, and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank are vital service partners.

Monetary and in-kind donations of goods and services in support of the SWES are welcome. Monetary donations may be made online at or mailed to Pittsburgh Mercy Development, 101 Bradford Road, Suite 320, Wexford, PA 15090. Make checks payable to Pittsburgh Mercy and specify the gift is intended for Operation Safety Net’s Severe Weather Emergency Shelter (SWES).

To make a monetary donation by telephone, contact Connie Murray, executive director, Pittsburgh Mercy Development, at 724-934-3537 or email To coordinate in-kind donations or learn more about the SWES, contact Operation Safety Net at 412-232-5739 or email


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