By Eric Lidji
A Squirrel Hill assistance center for those with mental illness temporarily relocated last week, after a severe thunderstorm caused significant flooding to its usual location.
For now, the Howard Levin Clubhouse is operating out of Charles Morris Hall on Munhall Road while staff assesses and repairs the water damage at its Murray Avenue facility, according to Debbie Friedman, executive director of Jewish Residential Services.
“While we get ourselves together, we don’t want to close because our services are very important to the people we serve,” Friedman said Thursday morning, after the flooding.
The Clubhouse offers a variety of social services to those with a history of mental illness, from vocational and educational training, to psychiatric rehabilitation, to warm meals.
Since the flood, Clubhouse staff are “trying to simultaneously run the program out of [Munhall Road] and clean up [at Murray Avenue],” Friedman said on Monday afternoon, as members arrived to take advantage of the regular services they depend on.
Friedman said the transition went smoothly. “We have a pretty good communication chain.”
To avoid confusion, the Clubhouse set up a transportation system to pick up members at one location and move them to the other throughout the day.
A severe thunderstorm on July 17 dropped record amounts of rain on the Pittsburgh area in a matter of hours — more than three inches in places, according to the National Weather Service. Squirrel Hill was among the hardest hit neighborhoods, according to the city of Pittsburgh, which sent crews out over the weekend to remove fallen branches from the roads and repair fallen power lines.
The Howard Levin Clubhouse is located below the parking garage of the Morrowfield apartment building on Murray Avenue. Friedman believes rainwater rushing down the sloped street flooded the garage, and the water ultimately leaked through to the Clubhouse.
“It’s like it rained in here for several hours,” Friedman said as she walked through the Clubhouse after the storm, her footsteps making a pit-pat sound against the wet carpet.
On Thursday, Clubhouse staff began assessing the damage. Dozens of buckets filled with rainwater sat on the floor catching drips from the ceiling. The white paint on the walls was already starting to buckle. A section of a drop ceiling in the bathroom collapsed.
Enough water entered the building that the floor was still wet by Monday afternoon.
“The damage is sort of still revealing itself,” Friedman said. She hopes to have an estimate on the damage — both the physical extent and the cost to repair it — this week, information that will guide the next steps in returning the facility to full form.
“We haven’t gotten all our insurance issues straightened out yet,” Friedman said.
The flooding damaged files, ruined a cabinet filled with office supplies and wrecked printers, phones, a fax machine and a cash register. Clubhouse staff draped black garbage bags over computer monitors for protection against the dripping ceiling. “A number of them got wet,” Friedman said. “Whether they’re ruined or not we don’t know yet.”
Thursday morning, after the storm, other local Jewish agencies, like the United Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Center, the Agency for Jewish Learning and Shaare Torah Congregation, immediately reached out to the Clubhouse to offer help.
Friedman said those looking to help should call JRS at (412) 325-0039.
The Howard Levin Clubhouse appears to be the Jewish institution hit hardest by the storm, but several synagogues in the area also reported minor damage after the storm.
Congregation Beth Shalom on Beacon Street reported minor flooding in their downstairs Helfant Chapel, but Assistant Director Sandee Bloom described it as “nothing horrific.”
“One of our smaller chapels got a little bit of water,” Bloom said.
Rodef Shalom, on Fifth Avenue, reported minor flooding in a downstairs apartment, but the damage was limited to the carpeting, according to Executive Director Jeff Herzog.
At Poale Zedeck, on the corner of Shady and Phillips avenues, some rainwater entered the downstairs social hall, forcing the congregation to move an event scheduled for Thursday night, according to Executive Director Glenn Foxson.
“It was significant, but we have insurance,” Foxson said about the flooding.
Because of the flooding, the congregation moved a going away barbeque in honor of Rabbi Yisroel Miller from the social hall to the neighboring education building.
Temple Sinai, on Forbes Avenue, reported “some water” entering the building, but Executive Director Phyllis Weinkle said, “We had no damage to our sanctuary or our chapel.”
The storm also impacted congregations outside of Pittsburgh, including Temple B’nai Israel, in White Oak.
“We had an excessive amount of water in our sanctuary and social hall,” said Claire Iszauk, manager of the synagogue.
The congregation was using fans to dry out the waterlogged rooms while it waited for a cost estimate on the damage, Iszauk said.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)