Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New Spark for Light of Life New Shelter Took Shape When the Community Got out of God's Way

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A New Spark for Light of Life New Shelter Took Shape When the Community Got out of God's Way

Article excerpt

This Monday morning, August 5, at 10 a.m., after 25 long years of searching for a new location, Light of Life Rescue Mission will finally hold a "ground-blessing."

It will be a groundbreaking, really - with shovels and the usual public officials - but the homeless ministry's leaders call it a ground-blessing "because this is God's work, and we wanted to emphasize that."

That explanation came from Light of Life's new executive director, Jerrel Gilliam. His words prompt me to confess that one reason the new homeless facility can finally go forward is because my neighbors and I decided to get the hell out of God's way.

Our community group didn't put it quite like that during our many, uh, "spirited discussions" of the matter, but that's the essential truth: Five or six years ago, when Light of Life started zeroing in on Deutschtown, people here decided to embrace it rather than fight it.

Ten years ago, we would have fought tooth and nail. We had just as bad a case of NIMBY as those in more affluent neighborhoods did.

Added to this was a keen awareness, from the empty lots all around us, that our community had sacrificed more to "progress" than any other in Pittsburgh. Deutschtown's heart was ripped out for I-279. Widespread abandonment followed. So we're already down and they want to kick us a bit more with a homeless shelter?

But the devastation, as regrettable as it was, created a big opening in which to reimagine the space we all share.

The very specific space near the Veterans Bridge has sat mostly empty for decades. Development pressure from the booming Strip District is just starting to cross the Allegheny River to this huge barren stretch. Instead of worrying about what developments a homeless shelter might prevent, why not organize development around this very necessary public service?

The opioid crisis has increased homelessness and powerfully altered what it looks like. The average age has fallen, Mr. Gilliam said, and people are coming from all social strata. …

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