Teens, community members, elected officials and mental health professionals joined JFCS Pittsburgh for a ceremonial groundbreaking on Dec. 6 at the former Forward Lanes in Squirrel Hill, introducing the first physical location for UpStreet Pittsburgh.
In October 2020, JFCS launched UpStreet (upstreetpgh.org) as an innovative virtual means for teens and young adults (ages 12-22) to easily access free mental health services, JFCS Chief Operating Officer Dana Gold said.
During the past two years, more than 2,000 young people have used the virtual service, according to UpStreet Clinical Coordinator Erin Barr.
COVID-19 made it clear that this type of help was necessary, JFCS CEO Jordan Golin said.
University of California-San Francisco researchers reported in April that nearly half of young adults experienced symptoms of mental health challenges during the pandemic, and “more than a third of those were unable to access mental health therapy.”
“There are a lot of teens who need mental health treatment, who need some kind of mental health support,” Golin told the Chronicle. “And we know that the reason why they don't get that support is that there are a lot of barriers that get in the way. Barriers can be insurance, ability to pay, parent permission and transportation.”
While the virtual UpStreet offering eliminates those barriers by allowing teens to log on with their phone, laptop or other device and get help in real time, the new physical space will provide necessary face-to-face connections, Golin added.
“There's no substitute for being in the same room with another person,” he said.
For that reason, location mattered.
Both Gold and Golin stressed the value of positioning UpStreet at 5844 Forward Ave. in Forward Lanes Office Lofts — just steps from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School.
“Of the 44,000 youths living in the city of Pittsburgh, 20% struggle with their mental health; and suicide is the second-largest cause of death for this same demographic,” Gold said. “If you look up the street, right up here, we have 1,430 students at Allderdice High School. That means that if these statistics are true, that means that 290 of those kids are struggling right now with challenges, that they may need a real outlet, before they become big, big problems.”
“Being so close to Allderdice, it's going to be really easy for kids after school just to walk on over and get help,” Golin said.
State Rep. Dan Frankel praised UpStreet’s centrality: “It’s easily accessible, not just for Allderdice students or the day schools, but really citywide.”
JFCS Pittsburgh and its UpStreet program “could be a role model for a lot of other communities as well,” Frankel told the Chronicle.
Golin pointed to UpStreet’s future and said that a “long-term lease” was signed and construction would begin in the next month, with the goal of opening by the spring.
“We always knew that UpStreet needed a space, needed a place, needed a home,” Gold said.
“So, in those challenging moments and those challenging hours after school time, you can make a good decision to walk down the street, come up to UpStreet, get coffee, get a snack, and talk to an adult, talk to a therapist, rather than drinking, or smoking or making some really poor choices somewhere else.
“We all know the challenges that youth have because we all come from families,” she continued.
“We are all part of families, and families struggle, young people struggle and the adults who love [them] struggle, too; and UpStreet is here to guide, to give hope and to be there for any youth — whether in Squirrel Hill or Butler County, UpStreet is here.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.