For the past 28 years, Pittsburgh Community Services Inc has been working behind the scenes of the social services community. In 2009 alone, they served 10,334 individuals and 5,630 families in Allegheny County.
Now with funding cuts coming down from the state and federal level, PSCI worries how they will continue to help low-income residents in the city and across the region.
“We’ve lost some funding from the state. We guess we’re going to lose about $100,000 just from that,” Cecelia Jenkins, executive director, said. “So the question is, how are we going to continue to change lifestyles when we’re being cut.”
At an open house on June 30, PCSI welcomed guests to their new location in East Liberty, where they moved from the Hill House Association in the Hill District. While the community action agency offers several services from their offices, a key function of their organization is to allocate funding to other non-profits such as the Hill House.
“We’ve been in existence for 28 years and for that entire time we had been a tenant of the Hill House. As a result, often the work we did was overshadowed by the Hill House,” Jenkins said. “Our branding was fairly confused with the Hill House. It became very obvious that we needed our own facility.”
Their other partners include Brashear Association, Community Human Services, Inc., YMCA, and the Duquesne Light Refrigerator Replacement Program. They also operate a food pantry as part of the Hunger Trust Fund, which operates food pantries, congregate feeding, vouchers, referrals, and nutrition education programs throughout the city.
“What’s troubling to the community action agency network across the U.S. is that it is the core for a lot of other funding,” Jenkins said. “The fact that I am able to match funding with the CSBG funding, gives us a great opportunity. So the fact that we might not be able to do that if we’re cut, could have a rippling, spiraling affect.”
PSCI’s funding comes from several streams, including the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Community Services Block Grant, the City of Pittsburgh Community Development Block Grant, and Allegheny County Department of Human Services.
“Our chief funding comes from community services block grants and that started a while back with the War on Poverty. The funding process has evolved. The premise is if we got $1 million, we should be able to leverage that in the community to create $10 million,” Jenkins said. “Our partners help us to extend the community services block grants.”
Guests were given a look at PCSI’s department of counseling and workforce development, headed by Director Ruth Parsons. Here clients are helped with employment, housing, job-readiness, mental health, and overall wellness.
“This is where the magic happens. You come in feeling all blue and when you come out, you leave with something to help yourself,” Parsons said. “Once you work with a client, they feel like no one’s going to be able to help them like we do. They’re wondering what’s going to happen to them.”
A large portion of Parson’s clients are referrals from the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, which targets gang members, offering them alternatives to their violent lifestyle. Depending on the results of a soon to come report on PIRC’s effectiveness, PCSI could lose funding to help their clients.
“As you know, our young men are killing each other, not just in Pittsburgh, but around the country. I call them students and clients because I like to refer to them in a positive way,” Parsons said. “They’re really tough until you get them behind that door. They come around real tough at first. They refuse to pull their pants up and I tell them this is like the White House. They’re not going to come into my office with their pants down.”
PCSI also operates a Work Ready Program for clients referred by the Allegheny County Assistance Office. They provide job readiness and job search assistance and continue their work with clients until they achieve job retention.
“Our clients have a lot of barriers they have to overcome, a lot of the things your normal person wouldn’t,” said Cheyenne Patterson, employment specialist, Work Ready. “So it’s very important that we stress the importance of professional ethics.”
PCSI runs Project Life Line, a youth education initiative that provides holistic counseling, intervention and case management for youth. The program boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate for its participants with 76 percent going on to college.
“We try to introduce them to different cultural stuff that they wouldn’t be used to in their neighborhood,” said Gregory Tot, youth coordinator. “When we have funding we do a job program with the youth. We’ve had them all over the place. We’re looking for funding now so we can put them back to work.”