Bone chilling. That’s how it feels to be without heat within just one day. Extend that time to days, weeks or even months, and the reality becomes life threatening.
Desperation leads many without adequate heat to warm their homes with stoves, propane and electric space heaters or burn pressure-treated wood without proper ventilation.
These activities, which are far more common than you might think, are a reality in many households throughout Detroit as they struggle to balance the need to keep their family warm with the need to keep them safe.
With fewer than six degrees of separation these days, many of us are within arm’s reach of a neighbor needing a hand with heat.
Mark Stiers, the president and COO of DTE Gas, is among them.
He found out from a neighbor someone needed his help. That neighbor had an acquaintance facing utility shutoffs. Both the husband and wife had severe medical issues that stretched their finances so they could no long pay those bills. They thought they had nowhere to turn.
Stiers immediately went work and helped them get the information they needed to work with his company and The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW) to keep their utilities on.
“We gave them a hand up, not a hand out,” he said.
That’s how DTE and THAW want to help those who would otherwise go without heat this winter.
PAY WHAT YOU CAN
The numbers are staggering. In every county across Michigan a minimum of 27 percent of households struggle to meet basic needs of housing, including energy. Across Michigan, the figure is 40 percent of households, or 1.54 million. Last year THAW distributed more than $16 million in utility assistance to more than 23,000 Michigan households.
According to THAW, on average limited-income households spend a third of their income to pay for energy. That often puts keeping the heat and lights on at risk as families are forced to choose between food and paying for their utilities.
That’s where DTE Energy’s Low Income Self Sufficiency Plan can help. It allows low-income customers to make affordable monthly payments based on their income and energy usage. Outstanding payments are frozen at the time of enrollment and are reduced if the customer makes regular payments.
DTE says the plan has a success rate of 90 percent … 90 percent of those enrolled in the program remain on the plan without defaulting. So, don’t wait if your energy bills are piling up. Get in touch with DTE right away. Go to www.dteenergy.com/help or call 800-477-4747.
NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS
No one can stand aside when there is this kind of need, says Stiers.
“Get involved” are not just buzzwords for DTE Energy and its employees. “It’s a personal responsibility as well as a corporate one,” Stiers says. “We aspire to be a force for growth where we serve.”
The company works with more than 70 churches, businesses and community leaders to help improve the quality of life in Detroit.
Its partnership with THAW goes back to the energy crisis of the 1980s when many faced utility shutoffs. In 1985 Detroit was one of the first places to create a helping-hand organization … THAW. DTE Energy, then Detroit Edison, was the major sponsor. It is now THAW’s strongest corporate supporter.
Today THAW is led by President and CEO Saunteel Jenkins, a former Detroit councilwoman, who faced her own personal challenges following the loss of her 14-year-old brother in 1991, who was shot and killed for his Duke University jacket.
She was studying social work at Wayne State University at the time and was so overcome with grief and anger she was ready to quite. Her mother convinced her best way to deal with the loss was to help others.
“I am a social worker,” Jenkins says. “I want to help those who cannot help themselves. With THAW I have an opportunity to take a hands-on role. Every single day I can measure the difference we’ve made in helping families and making them better off … we want to do more.”
For example, THAW helped a family who lost two children in a house fire relocate to a family member’s vacant home rather than a shelter. The move was not without its challenges. THAW had to quickly get the utilities turned back on so the family could move in. “They didn’t need any more trauma,” Jenkins says.
THAW is also now helping those facing water shutoffs. Thanks to a $1 million donation from New York investment firm Miller Buckfire, which helped guide Detroit through bankruptcy, THAW created an independent Water Assistance Program to quickly help keep families facing water shut off. They had 14,000 calls the first day of the program.
As you can see, the need is great. Due to high demand, THAW is no longer accepting new Water Assistance Program applications as its current funding is exhausted.
THAW is indeed doing more.
If you’d like to help THAW keep the heat on you can click here to donate.