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Mayor: First Step Recovery Homes owes taxpayers ‘thousands’
The head of a McKeesport-based charity that helps homeless men struggling with drug and alcohol addiction told city council on Wednesday his agency is not receiving the local support it needs.
During a public comment period, Keith Giles, founder and chief executive officer of First Step Recovery Homes Inc., said he has asked several times for financial support from city officials and the McKeesport Community Fund — a charitable foundation on which several city officials serve — without a response.
“Please understand that we at First Step have been hanging on by a thread,” Giles said. “We are a viable entity in the city, and want to continue our much-needed service, but financial assistance is much needed.”
But Mayor Michael Cherepko told Giles the city has responded to First Step’s requests. “You just didn’t like what I had to say,” he said.
Cherepko said that First Step owes the city “thousands and thousands” of dollars in property-maintenance fines, and for the demolition of an abandoned house at 541 Shaw Ave.
“Your organization has two or three buildings that need to be torn down — it’s an eyesore, it’s blight,” he told Giles. “I am fiscally responsible for the tax dollars in the City of McKeesport.”
To receive grant money from the city, Cherepko said, “you have to be in good standing with the city.”
Giles said that the properties in question were not as bad as the mayor alleged, and added that it would be impossible for First Step to repay the city for the demolition of the Shaw Avenue property.
“All of our money is restricted,” Giles said. “We don’t have any unrestricted money.”
First Step needs funding for blankets, bed frames and other necessities, he said. “In 29 years that we have been serving the male homeless population in McKeesport — at any given time we have up to 27 men at our facilities — we have only had to call the police three times,” Giles said. “Our track record is unmatched throughout the state.”
The mayor said he had met with Giles approximately six months ago to explain the problem, and that he was open to future conversations.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published October 07, 2021.