Wood Street Commons

Building a Community for Recovery with Staunton Farm Foundation Funding

By Alicia Romano, Community Human Services CEO, and Christina Farmartino, Community Human Services COO

Community Human Services (CHS) is honored to be among Staunton Farm Foundation’s grantees. Thanks to the Foundation’s generous support, CHS is working to create a Community & Social Center on the first floor of Wood Street Commons.

In 1970, the fabric of Pittsburgh’s South Oakland neighborhood was shifting rapidly, reflecting the greater changes in the city brought about by the collapse of the steel industry. Community Human Services (CHS) began when a small group of community members pulled together $60 per month to rent a storefront to provide their neighbors with a space to build relationships and feel connected. In this small, shared place, the group incubated community programs and quickly realized success in effectively addressing issues of crime and deterioration in their neighborhood.

Today, our 110-member team is working passionately to address the drastic and growing macro symptoms of poverty, injustice, and inequity hindering members of our Allegheny County community. We do this by empowering individuals and families to live in stable housing, connecting them to community resources, building relationships, and providing access to quality food.

Unfortunately, the need is still growing. According to recent reports by the Allegheny Department of Human Services, our unhoused population is larger than ever. That’s why CHS is devoted to assisting anyone (over 18 and living in Allegheny County) who is experiencing a housing crisis, at imminent risk, or already homeless.

CHS proudly supports Wood Street Commons, a 259-room facility spanning ten floors of housing in downtown Pittsburgh. Each room has a bed, desk, dresser, access to a shared restroom, accessible laundry facility, dining room, and small recreation room. This may not seem like much, but it’s a significant step up from what’s provided in many shelters and helps people start to feel ‘normal’ again.

The one thing we’re not currently able to provide is meaningful shared community space. Thanks to funding from Staunton Farm Foundation, that’s about to change.

Substance use, mental health issues, or being unhoused can be incredibly isolating. What many people on the road to recovery are missing is community. How is anyone supposed to live sustainably without community?! With Staunton Farm’s generous support, we’re in the process of renovating the first floor of Wood Street Commons into a Community & Social Center.

This much-needed expansion will allow CHS to create space for clinical and peer therapy, a Free Store, food pantry, kitchenette, and a large communal space. We know sharing trauma and creating connections are important parts of the healing process so it’s vital to provide places for that to happen.

The Center’s peer-organized support groups will focus on sharing experiences, harm reduction, and therapeutic support. Additional programming, such as budgeting, tenancy support, utility assistance, and cooking classes, will be provided after individuals leave Wood Street Commons to continue promoting self-sufficiency and independent living.

While many are criticizing downtown Pittsburgh’s unhoused population, CHS and Staunton Farm are teaming up to fight the stigma surrounding being unhoused and provide community members with services, dignity, and the resources they need to live and thrive.

CHS’s Community & Social Center is scheduled to open in summer 2024. If you have any questions, need help, or want to get involved, please contact us at chscorp.org.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider talking to a trusted loved one, your primary care physician, a faith leader, or call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.