Renters: Here is how to find legal help, mental health support and shelter in Allegheny County

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picture of an envelope that says eviction notice

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Many renters are facing hard times during the pandemic, but help is available.

Some tenants were already paying more than 30% of their income in rent and have since lost income. The region’s shortage of affordable housing, the loss of service sector jobs and the demands on parents who have had to manage remote schooling while trying to stay employed have twisted the knife of the pandemic.

Falling behind on rent, having to appear in court, worrying about where to live and dealing with an adversarial landlord compound the anxiety and grief many people are already feeling.

Local resources are available to connect renters and their loved ones with financial and legal support, mental health services and safe, consistent shelter. The services, websites and programs listed here can help.

Are you falling behind on rent?

If so, you’re not alone. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended the nationwide eviction restrictions until June 30, as of the end of March there were 1,350 eviction cases pending in Allegheny County.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program [ERAP] pays up to 12 months of rent and utilities for eligible renters experiencing financial hardship since March 13, 2020.

While Allegheny County's version of the program is currently limited to rent and utility aid, the state guidelines applicable in other counties also allow for money to be used for other expenses, including relocation costs, hotel, motel or boarding home bills; internet services for work, home schooling and telemedicine appointments. Renters can apply, or landlords can apply on tenants’ behalf. In Allegheny County, ACTION-Housing is administering this program, but in other counties applications may be made through the state benefits website.

The resources below can help you apply for rent relief and find legal advice and representation.

ACTION-Housing: Emergency Rental Assistance Program


RentHelpPGH

  • What they do: Help residents access services they need to stay in their homes.
  • Where they work: Allegheny County
  • Contact:

Neighborhood Legal Services

  • What they do: Help resolve legal problems for low-income and vulnerable residents by providing legal aid and information on landlord-tenant disputes, wrongful eviction, tangled titles, public or subsidized housing denials and utility or security deposit issues.
  • Where they work: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties
  • Contact:

Is your housing situation affecting your mental health or that of a loved one?

Being late on rent often goes along with not having enough food. Mothers who are behind on rent are at higher risk of being depressed, and their children may be sick more often and miss developmental milestones, according to a 2018 study. The pandemic has made everything harder, driving depression rates up to three times higher than before March of last year.

Parents and caring adults who involve kids in inexpensive daily habits can help heal the long-term effects of toxic stress on their bodies and brains, and those of their children. Exercising regularly, whether by walking, dancing or doing calisthenics, helps reduce stress hormones. Practicing meditation improves the symptoms of chronic illness. Keeping a regular sleep schedule and staying off screens before bedtime strengthens the immune system.

That said, during or following a crisis like eviction, many families need affordable mental health support but don’t know where to find it. Here’s a list of free or low-cost local mental health resources.

Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Mental Health Services and Support

  • What they do: Mental and behavioral health and substance abuse services, including involuntary commitment (302 hold) assessment, prevention, crisis intervention, treatment and community support.
  • Contact:
    • Phone: (412) 350-445

Resolve Crisis Services

  • What they do: Free services including 24/7 mobile crisis teams, as well as crisis interventions, treatment and home visits for children and teens.
  • Where they work: Allegheny County
  • Contact:
    • 24-hour hotline: 1 (888) 7-YOU-CAN (796-8226)
    • Child and Adolescent Crisis Team Services intake line: (412) 864-5065
    • Walk-in center at 333 N Braddock Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15208 . No appointment needed.

Persad Center

  • What they do: Counseling, training and outreach to the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, asexual and intersex) communities, the HIV/AIDS communities and loved ones of those communities in two locations, as well as via telehealth.
  • Where they work:
    • Lawrenceville location:
      • 5301 Butler St, Suite 100
        Pittsburgh, PA 15201
    • Washington, Pa., location:
      • The Center on Strawberry
        59 E. Strawberry Alley
        Washington, PA 15301
  • Contact:

SOVA: Supporting Our Valued Adolescents

  • What it offers: Online articles, resources and discussion boards moderated by mental health professionals for teenagers experiencing mental health challenges and their parents. This resource is part of a University of Pittsburgh research study.
  • Contact:
    • SOVA for teens: articles, resources and a discussion forum
    • WiseSOVA for parents: a discussion board, and advice on mental health topics and social media

Have you lost access to consistent shelter?

Services for unhoused individuals and families have been stretched during the pandemic, but there are resources.

ShelterListings.org

  • What they do: Searchable listings of over 3,000 listings including emergency shelters, homeless shelters, day shelters, transitional housing, shared housing, residential drug alcohol rehabilitation programs and permanent affordable housing.
  • Where they work: Allegheny County
  • Contact:

Proud Haven LGBTQ Youth Drop-in Center

  • What they do: A safe and supportive drop-in center for LGBTQIA+ youth (ages 18-25)  experiencing homelessness in Pittsburgh, offering meals, emotional support and resources to help develop the skills needed to live independently.
  • Where they work: 517 E. Ohio St. in Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown neighborhood
  • Contact:

Clarification (5/5/2021): This story has been updated to clarify the type of aid available in Allegheny County under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Juliet B. Martinez is a freelance journalist on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Reach her at julietbmartinez@gmail.com or on Instagram @JulietBMartinez.

Mental health reporting has been made possible with funding by the Staunton Farm Foundation, but news decisions are made independently by PublicSource and not on the basis of donor support.

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