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Westmoreland organizations seek to provide shelter for homeless during cold snap

Patrick Varine
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Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
As the sun shines bright, pedestrians cross Cobet Street in Tarentum while the wind kicks up snow creating poor visibility as temperatures dip in to the single digits on Wednesday, Jan 30, 2019.

It can be difficult to get an accurate picture of homelessness in Westmoreland County, but local officials and service organizations want to make sure that they have a place to go amid this week’s frigid weather.

“A lot of times they’re elusive and don’t want to draw attention to themselves,” said Jack Brown of the Westmoreland Coalition on Housing. The coalition recently completed its 2019 homeless count, an informal voluntary survey submitted annually to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Brown said the count is typically not very high — three people each in 2019 and 2018, and five in 2017 who met HUD’s definition of “homeless” — but it is still important.

“Our funding for essential programs is based on need,” he said.

Subzero temperatures forecasted for Wednesday and Thursday have prompted the opening of several warming centers throughout the region.

At Union Mission in Latrobe, staff member Linda Santry said one man came seeking shelter from the cold on Tuesday evening.

“Our beds are full, but we had a place for him on the sofa,” Santry said. “He’ll be going somewhere today, and we have one person planning to come in tonight. They’re typically guys who don’t want to be sheltered, but when the weather gets really cold, they come in.”

It was a similar story at the Welcome Home Shelter in Greensburg, which stays open as a warming center when the evening temperature dips below 25 degrees.

Shelter team leader Melissa Gedeon said one person came to escape the cold on Tuesday evening, and with temperatures set to dip even lower Wednesday night, she expects additional visitors.

“We make sure the doors are open for anyone who wants to come in,” Gedeon said.

Ed Naylor, 53, has been homeless for the past four months. He was at Chan-Soon Chiong Medical Center in Windber earlier in the week, and a visiting social worker tried to find him space at a shelter in the area.

“They were all full, as well as the ones in Somerset,” Naylor said. “I would’ve froze to death. So she kept calling around, and she told me I was coming to Union Mission.”

Naylor had never been there before, but the social worker arranged for a ride.

At Greensburg nonprofit Feeding the Spirit, a $10,000 grant from Dominion Energy could not have come at a better time, according to President Debbie Thackrah.

“We’ve already been inundated with calls from a lot of people,” Thackrah said on Tuesday evening. “There were a couple families living in their cars, and we were able to get them into an apartment.”

The Dominion grant is earmarked for homeless placement, or for poor famililes at risk of becoming homeless.

“We placed 500 people last year, so that $10,000 is a real blessing to us,” Thackrah said. “We try to work out other options, especially if people are homeless, to see if we can get them back to a family member.”

People or families in need of assistance can call Feeding the Spirit at 724-757-2533. The Welcome Home Shelter, at 218 Maple Ave. in Greensburg, as well as Union Mission at 2217 Harrison Ave. in Latrobe, will remain open during the cold snap.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.