When residents are unable to pay their gas or electricity bills, they are one step closer to becoming homeless, according to Sandi Murray, director of the Homelessness Prevention Call Center in Chicago. “When you are struggling to pay your rent or mortgage, you are going to put paying your utility bills last,” Murray told the Chicago Tribune for a story published on December 6, 2011. “Until you are disconnected, that’s all you can do. Your landlord may be knocking at your door. When people can’t pay their utility bills, it’s because they are busy paying everyone else. It’s not because they don’t want to pay.”
The Tribune said that this year there is a number of larger agencies that offer financial assistance reporting an increase in the number of people asking for help. The Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County has taken more than 117,000 applications for assistance with utility bills from September to December of this year. The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago reported that 8,168 residents called 311 to get help specifically paying their heating bill and another 13,138 residents requested help with their electric bills between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011.
Despite officials at social service agencies saying that the number of residents needing help has increased, the Tribune said both Peoples Gas and Nicor Gas reported that fewer households were at risk of having their gas service shut off this year than last year. Bonnie Johnson, manager of public relations for Peoples Gas, told the Tribune that approximately 12,000 residents were disconnected from their gas service between September 1 and October 31, in comparison to about 17,800 heating disconnections for the same two-month period last year. Margi Schiemann, a spokeswoman for Nicor Gas, told the Tribune that 4 percent fewer customers have been disconnected for nonpayment in 2011 than were disconnected by this time in 2010.
While the Tribune noted that energy companies do not disconnect gas from December 1 to March 31, Murray said families who enter the winter without working gas heat are more likely to use space heaters and turn to unsafe means to keep warm. Furthermore, when a family is unable to pay for heat, the Tribune noted that they likely are just steps away from being unable to pay rent.
“If they are cut off from utilities, it’s an indicator of a bigger issue,” Murray told the Tribune. “They are usually already behind on their rent or they are late. There is some sort of crisis or something happens that they can’t weather.”
Benjamin Brand Services – Chicago bankruptcy lawyer