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McKeesport’s mayor and the founder of a men’s shelter remained at odds this month.
At November’s city council meeting, Keith Giles, chief executive officer and founder of First Step Recovery Homes Inc., apologized for a recent confrontation with Mayor Michael Cherepko in front of city hall.
But Giles said that he remains frustrated that the city demolished a house owned by First Step — without his permission, he said — and sent the charitable organization the bill.
In addition, Giles said, he is disappointed that the city no longer supports the organization financially.
Founded in 1992, the group provides temporary housing for men recovering from addictions to alcohol and drugs, as well as counseling and referrals to other services.
“We have been providing services daily for 30 years in the City of McKeesport,” Giles told council. “We had a working relationship with mayors Bendel, Kucich and Brewster.”
However, the city has not provided any financial assistance to his group since 2011, he said.
“We’ve been holding on by a shoestring here, and we do need some emergency help,” Giles said.
Cherepko said he was receptive to Giles’s remarks at first, but that several later statements made to council were “insulting” and inaccurate.
The mayor said the funding First Step is seeking — through the federal Emergency Shelter Grants program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development — is no longer available to McKeesport.
Instead, Cherepko said, that money is now allocated by Allegheny County, and Giles would need to seek funding there. “You can apply to the Continuum of Care (coalition) through Allegheny County,” he said.
The mayor denied Giles’ argument that he had been “disrespectful” in their previous interactions.
“I have never disrespected anyone without being disrespected first,” Cherepko said, adding that during their argument at city hall, he tried to walk away from Giles “five or six times.”
Part of the disagreement, both sides said, centered on whether Giles had invited a reporter from Tube City Almanac to attend a meeting with the mayor. The reporter was not present, and Giles did not invite him. All sides have since acknowledged there was a misunderstanding.
At the October council meeting, Cherepko called some of First Step’s properties “eyesores.” Giles disputed the accusation and said the house that city officials demolished at 541 Shaw Ave. was scheduled to be renovated into efficiency apartments, “but we were never able to access the necessary funding for rehabilitation.”
City officials never got permission to demolish the structure, Giles said, and First Step does not have the money to pay for the demolition.
Council condemned the 541 Shaw Ave. house and put it on the city’s demolition list at a meeting in January 2019.
Officials said the structure was legally posted for demolition, neither Giles nor First Step appealed the condemnation notice, and they did not need First Step’s permission to proceed.
But Giles said he only learned of the condemnation after the building was demolished.
Giles said he hoped both sides could work together in the spirit of the McKeesport Message campaign of “respect, love, hope and dignity.”
But Cherepko said following the remarks to council, that seemed unlikely: “I had myself prepared to say, hey we’ll get together and talk but ... I feel like we’re back to square one.”
Originally published November 10, 2021.