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Heating bills expected to spike in southeast Michigan, but help is available for the needy

Full article published in Detroit Free Press

When Shirley Ivey recently slid $243 into a DTE Energy payment kiosk on Detroit’s east side, she didn’t mind much. That’s because she remembers paying $700, $800 or more a month during cold winters like this — facing the threat of shutoffs and actually having her gas and lights disconnected.

But now the Detroiter is on a budget plan, which makes timely payments more manageable.

“The cold weather — it’s been horrible, but what can I say? It’s Michigan,” Ivey said Saturday. “As long as I continue to pay that every month, they are not supposed to turn off my lights.”

Nevertheless, whether they are on a budget plan or call to make arrangements, many people are still having trouble paying their bills. That’s where agencies such as THAW step in to help, said THAW CEO Saunteel Jenkins.

“It looks like it’s going to be a very difficult winter and spring for people who are struggling and the most vulnerable and at-risk families also happen to be living in households that are not the most energy-efficient households,” Jenkins said. “They are most likely to have an old refrigerator. They are more likely to have leaky windows and doors. So when you add these sub-zero temperatures day after day it makes it all the worse.”

THAW has helped with some extreme cases, such as a 91-year-old woman who lived without heat for two years. Her furnace went out, and she had electricity only in half her house. She had no hot water and was using space heaters in an attempt to stay warm.

The organization also recently assisted a man who was using an open fire pit in his living room to keep his children and himself from freezing to death during the winter.
And in one of the most extreme cases, THAW assisted a former police officer who was on disability and raising children alone after his wife died. His bill was so astronomical THAW couldn’t pay it all but sought out other assistance for him through other organizations.