Thirty-eight years ago, Rev. Peter Weaver of Smithfield United Church of Christ in Downtown Pittsburgh made a decision that changed the lives of thousands of women. Instead of locking the church doors for the night on a bitter cold Christmas Eve, he opened them to a group of homeless women huddled together against the brutal weather. In that moment, Bethlehem Haven was born, and the doors have never since been closed.
Bethlehem Haven operated in those early years as an emergency shelter in the basement of Smithfield UCC, providing a place to sleep, something to eat, and compassionate care, but the original focus of crisis intervention was insufficient to address the multiple issues confronting the growing number of homeless women seeking assistance. Bethlehem Haven created a collaborative model of service providers to address these needs, which brought more volunteers into the shelter and expanded regular programs to include health and wellness services.
In 2000, Bethlehem Haven moved into Fifth Avenue Commons, located in Uptown Pittsburgh, a transition that allowed the organization to expand its programs by adding transitional housing and a health clinic. Before long, the Haven was also providing employment services and established permanent supportive housing for women who are the most vulnerable and in need of life-long care.
In 2007, Bethlehem Haven merged with Miryam’s and acquired its 1410 Fifth Avenue building, adding 30 transitional housing spaces and expanding the total number of beds to 96. That merger also added a day program shelter to our continuum of care, providing more of the resources needed to help these women return to a fulfilling and productive life.
In 2016, Bethlehem Haven became part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Family of Care™, ensuring its sustainability as a provider of shelter, housing and services to vulnerable women in Allegheny County. Today, Bethlehem Haven is better equipped than ever to benefit homeless women by providing long-term solutions that combine “health and housing” to help end the cycle of homelessness.
In the words of one resident, “We didn’t choose to be homeless. No one chooses that kind of life. But without Bethlehem Haven, I really don’t know where I would have gone.”
For the last 36 years, Bethlehem Haven has provided nearly 13,000 nights of shelter, every night, and the need continues to grow. Each year, the Haven provides nearly 60,000 meals; sees around 600 men and women in the health and wellness clinic; fills countless physical and emotional needs for our residents and day program attendees; and provides employment training for more than 100 men and women in the community.