LaKesha Austin, a Safety Ambassador with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, stops to chat with Germiller Hughes as she makes her rounds through the streets and alleys of the city offering services to the homeless people.
Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership
mobilized a few dozen sidewalk ambassadors in anticipation of tens of thousands of visitors for Major League Baseball's All-Star Week.
was one of them.
was proud to direct, advise and escort tourists around her
When All-Star Week ended, the safety ambassadors remained to help partnership members and the regular denizens of Downtown.
For some of them, Ms. Austin, 36, of Brighton Heights, is a partnership specialist -- the first, and so far only, homeless outreach coordinator.
Like all seven safety ambassadors -- who are paid from the assessments the partnership takes in from members, most of them Downtown businesses -- Ms. Austin
fetches jumper cables, walks people to their cars, helps tourists, calls the police and checks in with businesses that have reported complaints.
But the staple of her
day is serving the needs of people who live on the streets.
Ms. Austin has been a cook, a mail sorter, a convenience store clerk and has earned an associate degree in criminal justice from the International Academy of Design and Technology.
But for this job, she
is inspired by memories of tagging along as a kid when her
grandmother, a retired social worker for the county, went on case visits.
In a bright red polo shirt, with a first-aid kit, a packet of brochures and holsters for a water bottle and a walkie-talkie around her
makes at least two rounds of Downtown per eight-hour shift.
knows the names and stories, and which nooks, crannies and alleys are whose.
knows individual bundles.
said, studying the small encampment of bundles behind a dumpster.
"They're usually here.
takes people to get meals, which she
"I don't just hand people money."
The partnership buys bus passes for her
homeless clients to go to a shelter or a social service agency.
has accompanied several people to the Social Security office.
"I sit with them, wait with them, whatever they need."
For one of her
favorite regulars, she
is trying to establish a payee so he
can collect Social Security payments: "It's too much money for him to walk around with."