Recapping 2016’s The Art of Wine & Food

Oh what a “wine-o-licious” night it was! This year’s event grossed more then $60,000 for the families at HEARTH fleeing domestic violence and experiencing homelessness. Please visit our Facebook page to view photos from the event taken by Gary Zak. Thank you to everyone who came out to support HEARTH. We can’t wait until next year!

FAQs About Recent Funding – Get the Full Story

As Allegheny County’s Homeless Advisory Board votes to eliminate funding, you may have a lot of questions about how this all relates to HEARTH.

We can assure you we are doing everything in our power to continue advocating for the families in our program, to provide safe transitional housing and to continue to open door for families in crisis.

We’ve put together a list of commonly asked Questions regarding this matter, with Answers to these questions:

  1. How does HEARTH help end homelessness?
  2. What is occurring with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and their funding for HEARTH?
  3. Do we know why HUD and HAB are taking these actions?
  4. What does the impact of this funding loss mean for HEARTH and the families it serves?
  5. What is HEARTH doing in order to survive this funding loss?
  6. If 20 programs are affected by this decision, why is HEARTH the one in the news?
  7. What can I do to help?

Find Answers to all of these questions here on our new FAQ page >

Allegheny Co. Transitional Housing Agencies Could Lose Federal Funding

Members of an advisory board voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that Allegheny County stop seeking federal funding for transitional housing programs in order to make its grant bids more competitive, and instead focus on permanent housing and “rapid re-housing” services.

But if it’s adopted by the county Department of Human Services, the policy change would dry up annual funding streams relied upon by local transitional housing facilities like HEARTH, a Shaler organization that houses survivors of domestic violence.

Human Services Director Marc Cherna said a Department of Housing and Urban Development consultant came to Pittsburgh recently to advise DHS leaders to remove transitional housing programs from the county’s annual bid for federal housing funding.

“What the consultant said, basically, was, ‘You should be looking at getting rid of your transitional housing and reallocating that money to permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing,’” Cherna said.

Cherna said the change is necessary to stay competitive in the HUD grant process.

“If we don’t change with the HUD priorities and we lose the funding, then we lose those resources to the county,” Cherna said. “So, that’s the issue. This has nothing to do with the county deciding this. This is HUD’s priority that we are trying to meet so we can be competitive.”

But HEARTH executive director Judy Eakin said HUD actually recommends transitional housing for special populations, like the domestic violence victims her agency serves.

“We have cameras, security fobs, all types of things to keep them safe, away from their abusers,” Eakin said. “When you look at rapid re-housing and permanent housing, it is scattered-site all through the community, and there isn’t that type of support, safety, counseling, case management.”

Eakin said youth and those fighting addictions can also benefit from transitional housing.

“We need to look at the most vulnerable populations and be sure that we’re providing them options of housing support and all the services they need the entire way through our continuum, and not just allocate all our money in one direction,” Eakin said.

The recommendation made Tuesday by the Homelessness Advisory Board suggests excluding all transitional housing programs from Allegheny County’s annual HUD grant application. HEARTH representatives said their organization would lose $500,000, about half of its annual budget, and noted that about 20 other agencies in the county could lose federal grant funding, as well.

Read the article on 90.5 WEST Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station >

Local nonprofits say they will lose out with changes in HUD funding

A change in how federal funds are allocated to local housing programs has upset some nonprofits that stand to lose out.

The county’s Homeless Advisory Board voted earlier this week to not ask for federal funding for transitional housing, in favor of other types of programs, including “rapid rehousing.”

Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, said the county is responding to federal preferences about the best way to solve homelessness.

“HUD periodically changes their priorities. If you don’t stay ahead of that curve, you lose, you don’t get funded,” Mr. Cherna said, referring to funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Allegheny County gets about $18.5 million in HUD funds for homelessness, Mr. Cherna said; about $3.8 million goes to 11 agencies and 18 programs that provide “transitional housing” — essentially a step where people can stay up to 24 months between an emergency homeless shelter and a permanent home.

Among the affected agencies is HEARTH, a 20-unit transitional housing facility based in Shaler that serves families made homeless by domestic violence.

The decision would shift about $500,000 in federal funding the agency now counts on for about half of its transitional-housing budget, said executive director Judy Eakin. Ms. Eakin said she understands federal policy is shifting away from supporting transitional housing programs, but she believes the domestic violence victims served by her agency are a unique population.

“Providing necessary housing to victims of domestic violence must not be a priority,” she said.

Ms. Eakin also said her agency is very successful in helping the women it serves find employment and eventually, permanent housing.

HEARTH sued Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services last year over an unrelated issue; the suit was settled out of court.

The funding changes will likely mean Clairton-based Sisters Place, which assists homeless single-parent families, will have to change some of how it serves its clients, who are mostly homeless single mothers.

“HUD has been talking about this for years, and the providers have not really agreed with it, to be honest with you,” said Sister Mary Parks, the agency’s executive director.

But the shift in funding toward so-called “rapid rehousing” and away from transitional housing is clearly happening at the federal level, she said. Rapid rehousing essentially seeks to put families and individuals in permanent housing as quickly as possible, and provide supports for them there.

“I don’t see another option for [the county], even though none of us like it,” she added.

Sister Mary said in her experience, a period of time in transitional housing is needed to help families gain stability before being able to live on their own.

“My experience tells me, they need more support. But I also see the county’s point. You can’t lose millions of dollars meant to help the homeless,” she said.

A 2015 research report from The Urban Institute noted that research is still limited about how effective rapid rehousing is compared with other methods of combating homelessness.

“[E]arly evaluation and program data indicate that rapid re-housing reduces returns to homelessness,” the report found, but noted further research is required. It also noted this method does not necessarily solve long-term housing affordability issues.

Transitional housing programs can be costly, the same report noted — about $40 to $149 a night, depending on the city, or $1,200 to $4,470 a month — and not always successful.

Mr. Cherna said he believes all of the local agencies currently being funded “can adapt to what we need them to do,” and there will not be any overall loss of beds for those who are homeless.

“If we did not try to meet … HUD’s priorities, we run a significant risk of losing millions of dollars to this county for homeless services,” he said.

By Kate Giammarise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette >

2016 HEARTH Dreammakers

HEARTH is pleased to announce the “Dreammakers” for 2016.
A “Dreammaker” has culmulatively donated $10,000 or more to HEARTH

  1. Genie and Michael DiChiazza
  2. Jim and Jackie Eakin
  3. Leslie and Doug Kittenbrink
  4. Glenn and Erika Kolod
  5. Paul and Camille Kurtanich
  6. North Boroughs Rotary Club
  7. Reed Smith LLP

Thank you for your continued support, providing the families at HEARTH a “hand-up, not a hand-out” as they work toward independence and self-sufficiency, making their dreams a reality.

2016 Volunteers of the Year for HEARTH

“Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, they have the heart”

HEARTH is pleased to announce our 2016 Volunteers of the Year:

Girl Scout Troop 51227

The Mlecko Sister ~ Alexis, Jenna & Maura

Judy Robertson

We applaud you for your continued support for families, fleeing domestic violence experiencing homelessness.

Hot off the Press!

Our very own Judy Eakin was selected as one of the featured leaders in Pittsburgh Magazine’s Women & Business in the April issue. We are so excited to share her story from the magazine.

Judy Women in Business

HOPS for Hearth is April 16th

Join HEARTH for a fantastic sampling of beer, appetizers, and a silent auction, while helping to support homeless families who are survivors of domestic violence.

Sample more than 50 different types of microbrew and craft beers and taste delicious food from around Pittsburgh. Purchase admission online.

Buy admission – More Details >

If you love shopping on Amazon, shopping on is no different!

EXCEPT… 0.5% is donated to a charity of your choice. Why not choose HEARTH?

There’s no cost to you the customer and there’s no charge to HEARTH. The products are the same, everything is the same, except for the difference you can make by going through AmazonSmile.

How it works: Visit, search and select HEARTH as your charity of choice. And make your gifts this Holiday a bit more meaningful.

Volunteer Spotlight

Making a difference: The far-reaching effect of one woman’s volunteer efforts

It started with a simple request. In the fall of 1998 a fellow member of the Carlow University alumni board told Cheryl Walter that her women’s club needed help filling Christmas stockings for the children at HEARTH. At the time Cheryl, who was the choir director at Norwin High School, was looking for a volunteer project for her students, one that was personal and helped children.

That first year the chorus went out caroling in the area to earn money to fill the stockings. When Cheryl called to arrange delivery of the stockings, the HEARTH administrator told her that the entertainment for their holiday party had cancelled at the last minute. Cheryl stepped in and offered to bring in the show choir, the 40-member singing and dancing troupe of the chorus, to perform.

“From there it just kept getting better and better,” Cheryl says. Indeed it has. The volunteer effort has grown to twice-yearly show choir performances at HEARTH (one at Christmas and an “unbirthday” party each spring, a joint celebration of the children’s birthdays at HEARTH), Christmas stockings personalized by one of the former show choir mothers, and gifts for HEARTH kids that this year include hats, scarves hand-knitted by a friend of Cheryl’s, gloves, blankets, a $100 gift card and a personal gift from each show choir member. A former show choir mother works at Kohl’s and enlisted the store’s help to donate books and stuffed animals. Every year, the bus driver for the group reprises his role of Santa for the evening, which he’s been doing since that first show choir performance at HEARTH in 1998.

The volunteer effort now extends beyond the holidays and stretches across communities.

One of the show choir mothers is a 2nd grade teacher in McKeesport who, together with her students, friends and family, made and donated 50 blankets to HEARTH and other charities in honor of her 50th birthday.

Tragically, a young man from the show choir passed away and his parents requested donations to HEARTH in lieu of flowers. A special fund was created to cover expenses such as yearbooks and school photos for HEARTH children. The family is collecting donations again this year in his memory.

When two show choir alums got married they took up a collection for HEARTH during their church ceremony.

A perfect fit

santa1“The best part of all of this was finding a charity that fit our choir so well,” Cheryl says. “In fact it’s a perfect fit. The choir kids love the HEARTH kids and vice versa. The highlight of the show choir’s year is doing the parties at HEARTH and caroling to raise money.”

“When the show choir performs the HEARTH kids are so attentive,” Cheryl adds. “For some of them it is the first live performance they’ve ever seen and their first exposure to the performing arts.”

The show choir is a two- to three-year commitment and the children are at HEARTH for up to two years, a continuity that allows friendships to develop. Photos of three show choir boys and three boys from HEARTH even appeared in the Norwin High yearbook.

On a personal level Cheryl says that HEARTH supports her philosophy of empowering women. “HEARTH does so much. Women who go there can change their lives. It’s not just a band aid; it’s a wonderful opportunity to become stronger women.”

Standout memories

santa2When asked if there were any show choir experiences at HEARTH that stand out, Cheryl recalls that after one of their performances, a HEARTH resident told the choir that they were “jahara,” which she explained means “precious jewels.” “You are all precious jewels, all very different and multi-faceted,” she told the group. “You bring beauty and joy to people.”

Another year one little girl anxiously awaited the show choir’s arrival. When she saw them she started to cry and asked “Where’s Stephanie?” Stephanie had graduated and gone off to college, but a show choir member with red hair like the little girl’s quickly befriended her.

Continuing the good work

When Cheryl retired from Norwin High School in 2011 she hoped that the work with HEARTH would continue, and her successor has kept up the tradition. This year, chorus members went caroling to 28 different neighborhoods and collected $7,000.

santa4These days Cheryl is devoting her time to her travel agency, Norwin Express Tours, and the Expressions in Harmony Foundation, which she created to support HEARTH. The foundation recently achieved 501C3 status, and it’s Cheryl’s vision that former students will continue their volunteer efforts and fund raising through the foundation.

“I’m always amazed when I look at how this has grown from one idea, one statement,” Cheryl says. “They were looking for someone to do Christmas stockings and here we are 15 years later. This effort has touched so many lives. The choir and the kids at HEARTH have good memories that will last a lifetime.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at HEARTH, contact Vicky Gill at or fill out or Volunteer Contact Form here.

To learn more about the Expressions in Harmony Foundation, contact Cheryl Walter at or visit the Foundation’s Facebook Page at